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UNL Announce

Rehab device co-developed by Nelson wins da Vinci award

UNL's Carl Nelson collaborated with Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital on the ICARE device.
UNL's Carl Nelson collaborated with Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital on the ICARE device.

A rehabilitation device co-developed by a UNL engineer that helps patients with disabling conditions learn to walk again has earned a da Vinci Innovation Award, organizers announced last week.

Carl Nelson, associate professor of mechanical and materials engineering, collaborated for three years with researchers at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln to develop the Intelligently Controlled Assistive Rehabilitation Elliptical Training System, or ICARE. It won the da Vinci award in the Recreation and Leisure category at an April 11 ceremony in Dearborn, Mich.

Established in 2001, the da Vinci Awards is an international forum of recognition for people, organizations and corporations whose innovations enable everyone to participate in and contribute to all aspects of society. The awards celebrate people who triumph over disabilities and those who have developed new technologies that enhance mobility.

The ICARE was developed to help those who have experienced a stroke, brain injury, multiple sclerosis or other conditions regain the ability to walk and improve their conditioning. Robotic gait devices can help in this area, but at a cost of $350,000 or more, they are not readily available.

The device offers powered support so it is easier for people with weakness or limited mobility to begin and maintain exercise in a walking-like pattern. The motorized control has a sensor that adjusts the level of support during exercise, so if the user needs more support the power automatically increases. As the person needs less support, power decreases.

Nelson said he was pleased to learn of the acknowledgment.

“It’s gratifying to be part of a team that has now been recognized in an international setting,” he said. “We are just doing our jobs but this project really has gravitated toward human impact and potential.”

The UNL/Madonna collaboration began in 2006, when Nelson met Judith Burnfield, director of Madonna's Institute for Rehabilitation Science and Engineering, and the rehabilitation institute's Movement and Neurosciences Center. Nelson said he had been drawn to visit the rehabilitative institute's movement center because of his growing interest in rehabilitative engineering.

Within a few months after that initial meeting, Burnfield called Nelson with the idea, which needed his help as a mechanical engineer.

Madonna's research team also partnered with NUtech Ventures, a nonprofit affiliate of UNL that connects researchers with the private sector, to help commercialize the ICARE. SportsArt Fitness Inc., a manufacturer of professional grade fitness equipment, is launching the ICARE’s international distribution.

“It’s nice to see it do well and be successful, both on a commercial level and now, with such a significant honor,” Nelson said.