The Hibbot: Teaching Children with Cerebral Palsy to Walk, One Step at a Time
Meet Yano De Laet, a young boy who suffers from Cerebral Palsy. Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a permanent movement disorder caused by a lesion in the developmental brain which causes muscle weakness, abnormal tone, movement disorders and balance problems. The brain damage often occurs before or during the birth of the child, and there is no cure for the condition. Yano regularly undergoes consultations at the Cerebral Palsy Reference Center at Pellenberg, UZ Leuven in Belgium, and after hearing about the Hibbot, his doctor thought he would be an ideal candidate for the project.
The Hibbot is the brainchild of engineer Dirk Wenmakers and physiotherapist Ria Cuppers. After Ria explained how she facilitated the walking patterns of children with CP, Dirk went about designing an ergonomic system where the children could exercise their walking much more frequently. The Hibbot essentially mimics the support that a physiotherapist provides for the child they are treating – which they do by holding the child’s hips and pelvis while it walks, adapting their grip so that the child’s legs and hips are constantly aligned.
Dirk designed the Hibbot with input from Ria about the physiotherapeutic qualities the device needed to have, as well as input from Materialise on how to use 3D Printing to his best advantage. Our engineers provided advice on what technology would work best where, and also helped to design parts for him which were as light as possible while still keeping their structural strength and rigidity.
The team has now grown the project into a company called Medical Robots, and they have recently received support from iMinds to bring the Hibbot to as many children as possible. As Yano discovered when trying out the Hibbot, he was able to walk completely independently and keep his hands free, which is quite a change from when he uses a walking frame to move around.
One of the most innovative features of the Hibbot is its modularity. It provides just the right amount of support that the child needs, and nothing more. The Hibbot can also be adjusted to only allow certain movements – this means that it can steadily be adapted as the child develops. It is also intended for CP patients who have some degree of control over their legs; if the patient has major structural anomalies in the lower limbs then they won’t be able to start training with the Hibbot.
As Yano’s parents told us, “We notice that for him this way of walking is much more demanding; he loves it but it’s also quite a workout because he needs to coordinate and use his muscles much more intensively to be able to walk.”
It is also necessary to keep Yano’s muscles active and keep developing his ability to walk as he grows up and becomes heavier. Children with CP risk losing their capacity to walk and often become wheelchair-bound as they get older, and the Hibbot is designed to prevent this and maximize their independence.
Yano’s father concludes, “We especially hope that Yano will remain a happy child, that despite his handicap he will receive all possible chances to lead a great life and that he becomes as independent as possible.”