New device helps rehab patients - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

New device helps rehab patients

WATERLOO (KWWL) -- Walking, running or side stepping anywhere you want to go -- while smelling and sensing everything?  What's so unique about that? Try doing it inside one small room.

Inside this makeshift plywood room, a University of Utah team of mechanical and computer engineers is testing a prototype.

Computers are interfaced with a robotic arm and harness -- a unique wind tunnel, a six by ten foot treadmill and a three sided screen that takes you any place you need to go.

"Here you don't even think about where you are stepping," said Dr. John Hollerback.  "You're totally focused on the environment and the experience you are having."

Who needs this experience?  Emergency first responders needing simulator training.  What would it be like walking, running, or side stepping while monitoring the movement of toxic particles?  Aromas will eventually simulate all kinds of smells.

The uniquely designed wind tunnel creates complex wind patterns that carry aromas, moving in any direction or intensity - depending on where the user moves.

"We can actually change the wind angle in almost 180 degree direction, so it's the first time someone has built something like this," said Dr. Hollerback.

The robotic arm pushes and pulls to simulate uneven terrain. Graduate student Sandip Kulharni feels the resistance.  He looks around him, moving towards a cooler area where a breeze is blowing.  Eventually even leaves on trees will sync with the wind. Other applications?

"Let's say I'm a victim of a spinal cord injury. I'm going through rehab. I want to know what it's like out in the real environment - feeling sensations - knowing how my legs are performing.

Coordination training for rescuers, psychological studies, even learning how to walk on Mars.  You name the place, this will take you there.

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