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OU Researchers Test Robot Designed To Help Babies With Disabilities

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Carter Johnston helps researchers at OU Health Sciences Center. Carter Johnston helps researchers at OU Health Sciences Center.
OKLAHOMA CITY -

It's a one-of-a-kind robot with the goal of helping babies with disabilities.

Researchers at OU Health Sciences Center want to know if infants with cerebral palsy can learn to use the robot to help them learn to crawl.

It doesn't exist anywhere else in the world. This special device, kind of like a robotic platform on wheels for babies, includes high-tech sensors that gather information about an infant's learning and mobility patterns.

Researchers believe it's a device that can be life-changing.

Crawling is an essential milestone in a baby's development, but according to OU researchers, many infants with cerebral palsy are unable to crawl or even creep.

That can have lifelong consequences.

Carter Johnston is nine months old and he is part of a group of babies chosen to be part of a study to help babies with cerebral palsy.

Carter, born 10-weeks premature last September, doesn't have the disability, but most children born with cerebral palsy are premature, making him perfect for this mobility study.

“He has from the beginning given us a lot of information about how he learns to crawl, or learns to crawl using the device,” said OU Rehabilitation Sciences professor, Thubi Kolobe, Ph.D.

For the past nine years, Dr. Kolobe and her team have been developing this prototype, one that she believes is vital to a child's brain development.

“We felt that if we could identify them early, then we could introduce intervention early before they are delayed,” said Dr. Kolobe.

“So if they push on the floor a little bit or even if they just make a movement that looks like a crawling movement, we can detect that and the robot can carry their whole body forward,” said Andrew Fagg, OU Assoc. Professor of Computer Science and Biomedical Engineering.

Even if the baby doesn't have the muscle strength to carry their body forward.

Andrew Fagg created the software used to track the baby's movement.

“When children learn how to crawl, it's very much of a reinforcement learning process,” said Fagg.

“We just kind of let the baby be the lead,” said clinical physical therapist, Amanda Porter.

Amanda Porter has been working with Carter for the past nine weeks, making home visits once a week.

“We are just trying to encourage him to get things that are enticing to him, whether it's a toy, or his mom, to try and make it move. Accidental or on purpose,” said Porter.

At some point, researchers want to get these robots in the homes of kids with CP, but they also hope it could someday help with other developmental disabilities.

The research is funded by a grant from the National Institutes for Health, which represent 85 percent of the study's total funding, with additional funding form the Presbyterian Health Foundation, OU College of Allied Health and Foundation for Physical Therapy.

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