To reach the objectives the project stand on four main pillars:
The understanding of the language of the human body in terms of sensorimotor synergiesThe expected impact will be made possible by investigating how the artificial, i.e. intelligent machines, can physically interact and effectively “talk to” the natural, i.e. the human body. Understanding such a “language” is crucial not only to improve performance of rehab technology, but also to tackle the most difficult problem of making it simple – simple enough to be available. Simple is not easy, however, and the path to this ambitious goal is undeniably difficult. We think that we possess good clues about such a language, whose words we believe are sensorimotor synergies – and also that we have the scientific competence to further its understanding, and the technological prowess to translate it in a new generation of robotic assistive device.
Soft-robotics technologyThe second pillar SoftPro stands on is soft robotics, i.e. the artificial implementation of the principles of impedance adaptation in natural motion control and its role in embodying intelligent manipulation and grasping behaviors. We will capitalize upon the technology of variable impedance actuation and control (where Europe is pioneer and leader), and on the availability of a new generation of “robot muscles”, i.e. actuators capable of tuning their stiffness and impedance to adapt to the environment interaction and to the task, to realize simpler, safer, more comfortable and more effective prosthetics and rehabilitation devices.
Open Access to technologySoftPro will promote open access not only to data collected, but also to technology developed, to the purpose of building a community of users and developers which will in turn contribute to furthering our goals of making better robotics-enabled prosthetics and rehabilitation aids more easily accessible. Not only the publications will be freely accessible, but also experimental data will be shared with the community for comparison and cross-checking, and software available on public online repositories under suitable open-source licenses.
Research, Clinical and Industrial PartnersTo pursue the goal of making better robotic assistive technology accessible to more people, it is fundamental to start from real needs of patients, progress through the difficult scientific and technological path toward a simple solution that is accepted by patients and therapists, and finally make it into a product that is affordable, available, robust, usable, and economically viable. This goal is only possible to achieve if all the relevant expertise and capabilities are present. The SoftPro consortium includes world-leading clinical institutions where many patients are treated every day, and where preliminary collaborative work between participants has already shown great promise. The consortium includes most of the research groups who laid the neuroscientific and technological fundamentals underpinning the SoftPro approach. Thanks to a net of international collaborations and matching funding raised in other continents, not only European participants, but also some of the top clinical and research institutions worldwide are committed to SoftPro goals and will be actively involved. Finally, the Consortium has a numerous and qualified industrial component, with four SMEs which have sprung off academic research groups and are now established themselves in the best position to bring new technologies to fruition.