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Featured Collaborations

Our interactions with the private sector are producing new ideas and products that help people lead better lives. Some examples:

A Relationship Born of Real Need

When a car crash left his eldest son permanently in a wheelchair many years ago, Andy Hart, an engineer and entrepreneur, discovered the drawbacks of wheelchairs and mobility aids on the market at the time. In frustration, he turned to Dr. Geoff Fernie, a leader in the development of devices for people with disabilities. They ended up collaborating and, as good ideas became great products, Hart launched his own manufacturing and distributing company.

Among the early innovations was something that can now be found in most North American airports and hospital parking lots. The award-winning Staxi™ is a stackable transport chair designed to move people efficiently when they do not have their own wheelchair. These days, the collaboration between AJ Hart Group and Dr. Fernie’s research team at Toronto Rehab is producing all kinds of needed products. One is the SlingSerter™, an invention that lets nurses ― who have the highest rate of work-related injuries of any profession ― move patients without fear of injuring themselves. Hart is also lead licensee on another sophisticated lifting device developed at Toronto Rehab: RoboNurse can lift someone about half the weight of a small car and manoeuvre with surgical precision.

Other products include: innovative safety grab pole systems that can be mounted in the traditional floor-to-ceiling style, and a completely new system that can be cantilever-mounted from a wall.

And, concerned about the rate of hospital-acquired infections, Hart is working with Toronto Rehab researchers to introduce a potentially revolutionary product: a hand hygiene ‘prompting’ system that uses artificial intelligence to remind busy healthcare workers to wash their hands.

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Rehabilitation Meets Robotics

It began a decade ago when two very different organizations came together over a common interest. On one side of the table was Quanser Inc., an industry leader in robotics and control design. On the other, Toronto Rehab. The goal: find ways to use robotics to benefit people recovering from disabling illness and injury.

Quanser brought a lot of experience to the relationship. The Markham-based company is known for developing products used in industry, education and research that relate to ‘control’ and robotics. For instance, the company is working on an advanced remote-controlled robot capable of disarming explosive devices. It also pioneered a technology for long-distance signing of official documents.

Now, Quanser has expanded into a whole new area, thanks to Toronto Rehab: robotics and rehabilitation. Their first collaborative project was to make a robotic device to help stroke patients rebuild upper-body strength. Therapists typically spend a lot of time guiding patients through exercises to regain motor skills. The new device enables patients to do these exercises unsupervised at any time, with individual adaptation thanks to artificial intelligence. Clinical trials are beginning and there is already interest in North America, the U.K. and Asia.

Toronto Rehab and Quanser have also teamed up on a project to build a highly-specialized robot called RoboNurse that will take a heavy load off the backs of caregivers. Guided by a trained nurse, the machine can lift patients weighing more than 800 pounds out of bed and move them to a chair or down the hall for tests. Quanser is developing the controls for RoboNurse, applying the company’s expertise in ‘haptics’ ― robots you can ‘feel’ through.

“For us, this kind of collaboration is extremely valuable,” says Quanser CEO Paul Gilbert. “Working with Toronto Rehab, we are talking to people who are on the leading edge of what’s happening in the world.”

Gilbert sees other areas for collaboration with Toronto Rehab in the promising field of robotics and rehabilitation. “There’s many ways in which you can turn advanced robotics to the benefit of patients of all kinds, including those who’ve had sports injuries.”

Watching companies like Quanser parlay their work with Toronto Rehab into an expanding global business is exhilarating, says Dr. Geoff Fernie, Institute Director, Research, Toronto Rehab-University Health Network. “There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing something that we helped to develop get out in the real world.”

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