A robot that catches you if you fall will be coming to the Ottawa Hospital.

The "Gait Enable" robot was developed by a small team of Carleton University engineering students to help people learn to walk again. 

Patient falls strain health-care workers

Patients who are in rehabilitation, whether because of a physical disability or old age, rely on caregivers to physically support them when they stumble. 

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Aliasgar Morbi demonstrates his robot that helps patients walk. (CBC)

"If you fall — somebody has to be there," said Aliasgar Morbi, one of the students who designed the robot.

But catching a grown adult can lead to serious injuries for those devoted to helping patients walk, said Morbi.

He said lifting and moving patients leads to costly workplace injuries.

Invention helps physiotherapy

So he and his fellow engineering PhD students at Carleton's Advanced Biomechatronics and Locomotion Laboratory looked into how robotics could help physiotherapy.

They developed the Gait Enable robot to catch patients if they fall during their physiotherapy exercises. 

It works like a built-in life-preserver; patients are locked in and the robot follows behind and senses their every move as they stand and bend, or if they fall.

Morbi and his classmates have been working on the project since last summer, and now the robot's mechanics are finished. They need to cover it with a shell to hide all the wires, and once they do that they can start testing it on patients at hospitals.

They even decided to start their own company called GaitTronics — with Gait Enable as their first main project. Morbi said he hopes the robot will free up busy hospital staff so that they can treat more patients.

Robot coming to local hospitals

The bot will debut at The Ottawa Hospital as early as this spring, and Bruyere Continuing Care has also agreed to try it out.

While there are other devices to help patients in and out of bed or a wheelchair, he said no robotic machine has been developed to help patients walk.

Morbi said one of his inspirations for the project was seeing both his grandmothers deal with severe mobility issues when they got older.

"Both my grandmothers… one of them suffered from Parkinson's and I remember I used to stay up every night worrying 'is she gonna fall when she gets up and tries to walk to the washroom?'" he said.