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#TechTuesday: Robots help stroke survivors with rehab

A first-of-its-kind robot is in Austin, and doctors say they hope it will change lives for millions of people.

AUSTIN — The Harmony robot is a first-of-its-kind advanced rehabilitation robot.

It was developed at UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering and now finds it home at St. David’s Medical Center.

“My dream is that we have future versions of this robot that are in people's homes, so that they're able to use the robot for many, many weeks at a time,” said Dr. Ashish Despande, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Mechanical Engineering at the UT Cockrell School of Engineering.

The robot works to help stroke survivors retrain their body.

“The difficulty with stroke recovery is you need to repeat repetitions over and over again, but they also need to be more challenging, and they need to be able to adapt.” Explained Dr. Robert Lee, Medical Director of Stroke & Neurological Recovery at St. David's Medical Center. “We should be able to program the robot in a way that it can learn what the patient is doing from session to session. And overtime, as the algorithms improve and the patient improves, the robot can adapt to what the patient is able to do.”

Robert Buczynski knows this feeling firsthand. He’s the first patient to use the robot.

Buczynski had a stroke and a neighbor found him hours later. He said his entire right side was paralyzed from the incident.

“I think that today it moves better than it ever has,” said Buczynski, after working with the robot for a few weeks. “I think it's an improvement, helping all the time.”

Buczynski does one-hour rehabilitation sessions twice a week using the robot.

“With this device, we're able to do a lot more repetitions than a typical therapy session,” said Lee. “Typically, if a stroke survivor goes to an hour of occupational therapy, they will do certain repetitions, maybe they can get 40 to 60 repetitions. A robot is able to do thousands of repetitions at the same time.”

Doctors said they hope the robot will help speed up the rehab process in order to help patients just like Buczynski.

“I'm glad to death every time I come here,” Buczynski said. “I wish I could be coming forever.”