Background: In clinical practice, therapists choose the amount of assistance for robot-assisted training. This can result in outcomes that are influenced by subjective decisions and tuning of training parameters can be time-consuming. Therefore, various algorithms to automatically tune the assistance have been developed. However, the assistance applied by these algorithms has not been directly compared to manually-tuned assistance yet. In this study, we focused on subtask-based assistance and compared automatically-tuned (AT) robotic assistance with manually-tuned (MT) robotic assistance. Methods: Ten people with neurological disorders (six stroke, four spinal cord injury) walked in the LOPES II gait trainer with AT and MT assistance. In both cases, assistance was adjusted separately for various subtasks of walking (in this study defined as control of: weight shift, lateral foot placement, trailing and leading limb angle, prepositioning, stability during stance, foot clearance). For the MT approach, robotic assistance was tuned by an experienced therapist and for the AT approach an algorithm that adjusted the assistance based on performances for the different subtasks was used. Time needed to tune the assistance, assistance levels and deviations from reference trajectories were compared between both approaches. In addition, participants evaluated safety, comfort, effect and amount of assistance for the AT and MT approach. Results: For the AT algorithm, stable assistance levels were reached quicker than for the MT approach. Considerable differences in the assistance per subtask provided by the two approaches were found. The amount of assistance was more often higher for the MT approach than for the AT approach. Despite this, the largest deviations from the reference trajectories were found for the MT algorithm. Participants did not clearly prefer one approach over the other regarding safety, comfort, effect and amount of assistance. Conclusion: Automatic tuning had the following advantages compared to manual tuning: quicker tuning of the assistance, lower assistance levels, separate tuning of each subtask and good performance for all subtasks. Future clinical trials need to show whether these apparent advantages result in better clinical outcomes.
- Robotic gait training
- Spinal cord injury