Towards functional robotic training: motor learning of dynamic tasks is enhanced by haptic rendering but hampered by arm weight support

Özhan Özen*, Karin A. Buetler, Laura Marchal-Crespo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: Current robot-aided training allows for high-intensity training but might hamper the transfer of learned skills to real daily tasks. Many of these tasks, e.g., carrying a cup of coffee, require manipulating objects with complex dynamics. Thus, the absence of somatosensory information regarding the interaction with virtual objects during robot-aided training might be limiting the potential benefits of robotic training on motor (re)learning. We hypothesize that providing somatosensory information through the haptic rendering of virtual environments might enhance motor learning and skill transfer. Furthermore, the inclusion of haptic rendering might increase the task realism, enhancing participants' agency and motivation. Providing arm weight support during training might also enhance learning by limiting participants' fatigue. METHODS: We conducted a study with 40 healthy participants to evaluate how haptic rendering and arm weight support affect motor learning and skill transfer of a dynamic task. The task consisted of inverting a virtual pendulum whose dynamics were haptically rendered on an exoskeleton robot designed for upper limb neurorehabilitation. Participants trained with or without haptic rendering and with or without weight support. Participants' task performance, movement strategy, effort, motivation, and agency were evaluated during baseline, short- and long-term retention. We also evaluated if the skills acquired during training transferred to a similar task with a shorter pendulum. RESULTS: We found that haptic rendering significantly increases participants' movement variability during training and the ability to synchronize their movements with the pendulum, which is correlated with better performance. Weight support also enhances participants' movement variability during training and reduces participants' physical effort. Importantly, we found that training with haptic rendering enhances motor learning and skill transfer, while training with weight support hampers learning compared to training without weight support. We did not observe any significant differences between training modalities regarding agency and motivation during training and retention tests. CONCLUSION: Haptic rendering is a promising tool to boost robot-aided motor learning and skill transfer to tasks with similar dynamics. However, further work is needed to find how to simultaneously provide robotic assistance and haptic rendering without hampering motor learning, especially in brain-injured patients. Trial registration https://clinicaltrials.gov/show/NCT04759976.

Original languageEnglish
Article number19
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation
Volume19
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Keywords

  • Arm weight support
  • Effort
  • Haptic rendering
  • Motivation
  • Motor control
  • Motor learning
  • Neurorehabilitation
  • Robotic assistance
  • Somatosensory information
  • Variability

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