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SoftPro Report Summary

Project ID: 688857
Funded under: H2020-EU.2.1.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SoftPro (Synergy-based Open-source Foundations and Technologies for Prosthetics and RehabilitatiOn)

Reporting period: 2016-03-01 to 2017-08-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The main objective of the SoftPro project is to assist people with upper limb amputations or motor disabilities with robotics-enabled aids. To do so, we need not only to produce new technology and better performing devices; we also need to make the technology accessible to real people with real needs.
To achieve this goal, the SoftPro project proposed to leverage on six crucial enablers:

1) a solid neuroscientific theoretical basis on sensorimotor synergies as the elementary alphabet of human upper limb sensory-motor behavior and primitives
2) the theory and technology of soft robotics, enabling controllable impedance and adaptability in physical human-robot interaction
3) a principled simplification approach to artificial hand and arm technology development, allowing the development of the simplest technology fulfilling a desired assistive goal
4) a quantitative assessment-based development philosophy, that measures real progress in subjects through new methods and technologies
5) an open approach to innovation, that promotes open access not only to data collected, but also to technology developed, e.g. through Open-Source HW and SW repositories, thus building a contributing community of users and developers
6) a tight connection of research centers, clinical institutions, and agile SMEs that are ready to participate in innovation and pick up results, transforming them in product prototypes

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

The main scientific and technological achievements of the period are:

1) Development of a multi-modal approach to characterize upper limb synergies (physiological and pathological) and creation of a database of experimental data; preliminary spatial and temporal characterization of synergies and definition of design guidelines for assistive devices

2) Development and preliminary evaluation of sensing systems for electro-myographic and force measurements as well as wearable sensors for postural and force characterization of human manipulation strategies, robot control and rehabilitation outcome assessment

3) Preliminary identification of clinical needs and investigation of haptic synergies and illusions to understand human tactual perception and inform tactile feedback delivery; development of a class of prototypical sensing and sensory substitution systems for assistive devices and preliminary testing in prosthetics

4) Manipulation learning for semi-autonomous motor control enhancement, collision handling and basic reflex control for soft robots; design of soft-robotics control for upper limb prosthetics and artificial extra-limbs for assistive applications; development of soft brain-robot interfaces for improved performance and human safety in impedance-based control of robotic systems;

5) Development and preliminary validation of metrics, systems, tools for the assessment of upper limb function and manipulation in rehabilitation. Re-design of an upper limb rehabilitative systems targeting market entrance, integrating research, clinics, and SME expertise. Preliminary results for monitoring central and autonomic nervous system dynamics, as a measure of arousal and stress level to be evaluated during rehabilitation or prosthesis use.

6) Development of a novel category of prototypical soft and easy to control prosthetic systems for hand and upper limb with increased grasping capabilities; increase of TRL of a one degree of actuation soft hand prosthesis; design of a prototypes of hand and upper limb exoskeletons and supports for rehabilitation;

7) Design of preliminary prototypes of extra artificial limbs for assistive and rehabilitative applications; inputs and control

8) Preliminary tests with patients of the SoftPro prosthesis and procedures for further testing robotics-enabled aids, interfaces and assessment/rehabilitative tools

9) Definition of an integration plan for theoretical and technical project outcomes; preliminary market analysis and work plan to conciliate economic exploitation and open access approach for result sharing.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The theoretical and technological achievements reported so far are perfectly aligned with the final goal of the project, which encompasses scientific break-throughs as well as technological innovation. We expect SoftPro to have a lasting impact in terms of fundamental research not only in robotic-enabled prosthetic and rehabilitation aids but also in the domain of applied neurosciences. More specifically, SoftPro will clarify how the introduction of the concept of sensorimotor synergies in the vocabulary of prosthetics and rehabilitation can help making headway in therapy and assistance. The characterization of upper limb synergies will provide a basis for the principled simplification of upper-limb assistive and rehabilitative devices and the design of intuitive brain machine interfaces. The study of pathological synergies will help to quantitatively describe the motor impairment, and hopefully lead to earlier/more accurate clinical assessment and assistance in its treatment. Finally, the introduction of the concept of robotic extra-limbs, besides offering an unprecedented approach for assistive applications, will also provide the opportunity to investigate the neural foundations of the sensory motor control of upper limb from a totally new, unexpected perspective. In addition to this notable scientific impact, SoftPro is expected to produce outcomes not only for the well-being of citizens, but also for the generation of sustainable economic growth. Europe counts more than 70 million people with some level of disability, part of them belongs to our target groups. SoftPro expects to achieve three types of impact on them. The first is a social impact: target groups will be empowered to reach a higher degree of self-reliance, to enlarge their social contacts and potentially also to re-enter the labor market. This will yield a direct effect on the quality of life and participation of disabled people, which, in and of itself by itself would suffice to justify investing in such goals. Because of the previous aspects, we expect a second impact on the reduction of costs of healthcare: higher self-reliance of disabled people in doing activities of daily living will decrease the required support by formal and informal caregivers, and hence, in turn, the burden on society as a whole. Finally, we expect to have an impact also in term of economic and jobs growth: the SoftPro open technology will likely lead to the birth of new companies, including Spin-offs, and will strengthen existing companies by offering new market opportunities. The SoftPro consortium already includes few, carefully chosen, agile SME companies that already actively work, in conjunction with SoftPro clinical partners, to test and bring robotic-enabled assistive devices to market and applications for real-end users.

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