Mechanical and electronics engineers at the Tallinn University of Technology (Estonia), together with doctors at East Tallinn Central Hospital (Estonia), have developed a smart brace to make the treatment of scoliosis patients more comfortable and effective.
Therapeutic braces are often used to correct spinal curvature disorders, especially in young people.
Now, with the help of AI & Robotics Estonia (AIRE), a team of researchers and physicians has succeeded in creating a novel smart scoliosis brace equipped with high-precision sensors for measuring wearing time and efficacy, breathing patterns, and the effectiveness of therapeutic exercises.
The sensor-equipped brace, outputs immediate and continuous information about the wearer’s health. In conventional therapy, efficacy is usually checked by X-ray twice a year.
According to Dr. Ragne Riim, a spine surgeon at East Tallinn Central Hospital, rapid feedback is motivating for young patients: ‘Feedback – reassurance that the patient has done well and is wearing the brace correctly – is essential when treating children. And if something is wrong, it allows doctors to quickly make changes to the treatment arrangements.’
Professor Tauno Otto from the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at Tallinn University of Technology added: ‘In addition to data analysis, the digital twin created on the basis of the data received from the brace enables the effective application of artificial intelligence. This makes it possible, first, to increasingly use smart medical assistive devices to improve the digital health system. And, second, it also allows us to improve their production – for example, a patient’s digital twin can be used to 3D print a new personalised therapeutic brace where the corrective forces are increased or reduced based on previous treatment efficacy.’
The digital twin created with the brace can provide the patient’s parents, treating physician, or physiotherapist, with an overview of the use of the brace on their mobile phone. Additionally, by employing artificial intelligence, specialists can compile recommendations on how to wear the brace and perform therapeutic exercises, or order a new brace if the young patient has outgrown the existing one.
The project also included researchers from the Institute of Technology of the University of Tartu, led by Professor Alvo Aabloo, and Professor Marten Madissoo from the Laboratory of Computed Tomography at the Estonian University of Life Sciences.
The aim of the smart scoliosis brace project is to develop a secure, human-centred health technology platform, to which various orthopaedic and occupational safety devices could be connected in the future. For example, it is possible to develop the capacity to use artificial intelligence for the prevention of trauma at work, which is particularly important given the widespread use of collaborative robots in direct contact with humans.
The smart scoliosis brace is one of many projects backed by AI & Robotics Estonia (AIRE).
The objective of AIRE is to help companies increase their competitiveness in Estonia as well as in foreign markets. AIRE brings together researchers and experts from Estonian universities, state agencies, and science parks.