GaitMaster 5: The Mechanical Physical Therapist of the Future

Some injuries can leave people unable to walk and in need of physical therapy to guide their muscles through the re-learning process. This machine, the GaitMaster 5, assists with that therapy while adjusting to a patient's progress.

The GaitMaster 5 was initially intended as a solution to a "serious shortage of physical therapists" in Japan, but has turned into a system that combines a treadmill, a StairClimber, and a mechanical physical therapist:

The patient's feet are strapped to sensor-laden pads on motion platforms. (The binding is the same as that used on a snowboard, so the heels and toes are free to move as the feet flex.) As the patient takes his first tentative steps, the system completely controls the movement. The stride, climb, or descent is the exact re-creation of a healthy person's movement, which has been prerecorded using a motion-capture system. As the patient gains more control, the system can be set to a second training mode that allows more autonomy.

Sounds confusing? Some would describe it as being similar to teaching a child to walk or dance by having him stand on your feet as you move around the room. It's apparently a very natural way to learn the appropriate motions. [IEEE]