AI Hits Its Stride: Cionic’s AI-Powered Neural Sleeve Could Help Fix Impaired Walking

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Animation showing how an AI-enabled leg sleeve called Neural Sleeve helps people walk.

A smart leg covering is helping people with mobility issues to walk.

What’s new: Neural Sleeve is a cloth-covered device that analyzes and corrects wearers’ errant leg movements. Developed by startup Cionic and product studio Fuseproject, the device is intended to help people with conditions that affect coordination of the legs, such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, and stroke.

How it works: The sleeve is fitted with electrodes that contact the wearer’s skin in the region of particular leg muscles. A machine learning model analyzes electrical impulses generated by muscles as they move and instructs the electrodes to stimulate the muscles in a way that corrects the wearer’s gait.

  • The model was pretrained on muscle-motion data including examples of ideal and impaired walking, according to a patent filing. It’s fine-tuned on muscle data obtained from the specific patient who will wear it.
  • The model uses input from the sleeve’s electrodes to determine the difference between the user’s motion and ideal motion.
  • The model computes patterns of electrical impulses that will prod the user’s muscles toward the ideal motion and sends this information back to the sleeve’s electrodes, which deliver the specified impulses.

Behind the news: AI-enabled wearable devices have a wide variety of applications in making the world more accessible to people who are injured or otherwise disabled.

  • Copenhagen-based Oticon makes hearing aids that use a neural network to identify and amplify human speech.
  • Envision enhances Google Glass, a wearable augmented-reality display. The company’s technology helps blind and low-vision people interact with their surroundings by highlighting certain objects in a user’s field of view, providing audio descriptions, and reading text.

Why it matters: Some 13.7 percent of American adults who have a disability have serious trouble walking up and down stairs, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Devices like Neural Sleeve may enable many of these people to move more freely and effectively.

We’re thinking: Neural Sleeve partnered with a design studio to enhance the system’s appeal to users. This sort of collaboration can be very helpful when deploying systems — especially those involved in highly personal activities like therapy — in the real world.

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