Rehabilitating ankles and advancing robotic interactions

This enhanced understanding of ankle biomechanics is helping with robotic rehabilitative and assistive devices, including prosthetics, exoskeletons and balance training platforms. For use in helping people with walking impairments, the data from the impedance profiles of healthy individuals could be used as a baseline to help create training exercise interventions to correct altered ankle behavior.

Lee has been building upon this prior research in his lab, the Neuromuscular Control and Human Robotics Laboratory at ASU, to investigate ankle impedance under various dynamic task conditions with people who have healthy gaits and in others with neurological impairments such as stroke or multiple sclerosis.

His lab team also uses the approach they developed for ankle impedance to study other limb and joint impedance.

“For example, we are currently working on the quantification of shoulder joint impedance and upper-limb impedance, which will be used to develop a new robot-aided rehabilitation framework for shoulder rehabilitation, and a high-performing yet safe and stable upper-limb exoskeleton robot for industrial applications,” Lee said.

The first project is supported by a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award and the second project he is working on with Sze Zheng Yong, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, with the support of an NSF National Robotic Initiative, or NRI, award.

Beyond human health and augmentation applications, the research findings from Lee’s original paper can also be used in robotics. Robotic impedance controllers are popular for allowing robots to have controlled limb movements, which is especially important for human-robot interaction. The paper’s findings can be directly used to innovate these robotic impedance controllers.

The start of a prolific robotics and rehabilitation career at ASU

The 2016 paper published in the IEEE Journal of Translational Engineering in Health and Medicine was Lee’s first journal publication as an ASU faculty member in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of the six Fulton Schools.

He has had many research successes since then, including earning a 2019 NSF CAREER Award, a 2021 New Investigator Award from the Arizona Department of Health Services and winning the Wearable Robotics Association 2020 WearRAcon Innovation Challenge with his students who developed a soft robotic ankle foot orthoses for active stroke rehabilitation.

“The Fulton Schools and (School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy) Director Lenore Dai have been supporting me in many ways to continue and expand my research and start several new colleagues in the Fulton Schools and outside with clinical collaborators in the Valley,” Lee said. “And my academic mentors (in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, another of the Fulton Schools) Marco Santello, Thurmon Lockhart and James Abbas have supported me and acknowledged the potential of my research. Of course, all these research projects would not have been possible without the hard work of current and past students in my lab.”

Monique Clement

Lead communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering