For sports stars and patients with major injuries, robotics could be key to fast-tracking muscle build-up
Skills Acquisition team

 

In sport, practice makes perfect. But one semi-finalist in the AI and Robotics for Good national award could be about to change all that.

Typically, athletes learn how to perform a certain task, such as throwing a ball, over a long period of time, says Fatimah Hareb, leader of the Skills Acquisition team. “This learning method naturally occurs by trial-and-error process, thus consumes a long learning time and may not result in a perfect performance,” she says.

The sports player traditionally improves their skills through practice and by teaming up with a coach. Still, there is a gap between how the coach knows he wants the athlete to move his muscles, and communicating that directly to the player’s muscles, explains Hareb.

Skills Acquisition’s idea is to use muscle readers (an electromyogram to measure the electrical impulses of muscles) and muscle writers (robot-like muscle vibrators) to train the muscles more accurately and faster. This approach means communication time between the central nervous system and the muscle is far quicker than the time it usually takes for the brain to tell other parts of the body what it wants them to do. It also zeros in first time on the muscles it wants to stimulate, rather than the player guessing by observing the coach’s movements.

Originally conceived for sports players, the team’s invention has a potential social purpose, too. “Imagine that our system could be improved to help rehabilitate patients who have lost their motor functions after brain or spinal cord injury,” says Hareb. “This evolution will benefit not only the individuals but society as a whole.”

For now, the idea is still in its research phase. “We have done some initial tests to make sure the idea itself works and the results are promising,” says Hareb. If they are lucky enough to win the award, Skills Acquisition plans to buy more advanced equipment to improve and upgrade the prototype.

“As semi-finalists we are very anxious and nervous, but really excited for the finals,” says Hareb. “We are confident of our novel project.”