Yesterday, i visited the Centre for Rehabilitation Research in Toronto, called iDAPT. Since a few years i have a continuous flow of master students from our group in Eindhoven, to do their master traineeship in this centre. More specifically, they have been working with the company IDT engineering to help realizing the Challenging Environment Assessment Lab (CEAL). CEAL consists of a large (6m x 6m), 6-degree-of-freedom motion platform that can be configured with various interchangeable payloads (portable, self-contained laboratory spaces). One is WinterLab which has a real ice floor and can reach sub-zero temperatures and produce winds up to 15 km an hour. Another payload, called StreetLab, has a 180 degree field-of-view curved visual projection screen combined with a treadmill interface and a wheelchair simulator. Yesterday i walked inside this Streetlab, and found it really impressive: it is really if you are walking outside. There’s also StairLab which has a fully instrumented staircase. The facilities is unique in its kind, and provides a means to do a lot of research for rehabilitation and human motion studies. Our co-operation with CEAL started some years ago, when one of our students did his master final thesis project on the successful design of a safety harness to be used in the various domes (labspaces/payloads put on top of the motion platform). Yesterday, i could finally see this in hardware realized! Currently, one student is doing his master thesis final project on one of the new facilities for this lab.
Other labs i visited were the home lab and the care lab. In the homelab researchers can invent and test new products to help older people and those with disabilities stay at home longer and more safely. The lab resembles a typical single-storey dwelling with functional plumbing and wiring. Study subjects can occupy the living space and test innovations in a real-life setting, while researchers can observe all studies from an overhead catwalk. I also did see research on home robotics, very much linked to out activities on home robotics with our Amigo end Rose. In the carelab the situation of a hospital is simulated, and research is focussed on various aspects. I was suggested to lie down on the bed, and i got a demonstration of a new device to get a band underneath a patient, so as to be able to lift the patient without too much forces needed by the personnel.
In addition to the impressive hardware i did see yesterday, one of the remarkable things of the iDAPT centre is the fact that it is truly a cross-sectoral approach: engineers from various disciplines are working together with medical people with clinical experience. In this way, the centre has a perfect sense for the real problems in practice of health care (both in clinical sites, as well as for rehabilitation of assisted living at home). They already generated a number of products and are very supportive for start-up initiatives.
At the end of the day i gave a talk on the activities of our TU/e group, focussing on robotics and a little bit of automotive, also stressing the need of working on real problems with a multi-disciplinary team. Overall, i really enjoyed my visit, and i am happy for the working relation we have. For the research we do in the Netherlands, we can learn from the centre how to work together between engineering and the care sector, especially also in the setting up and exploring the benefits of living labs. I also clearly see that what we learn from our robot soccer champions, can effectively be of use in elderly health care!