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Rehab technology

Unique lab devises rehab solutions

TORONTO – To grow and thrive, companies need to constantly innovate, so when CIMCO Refrigeration was asked to build a moveable ice floor for experiments in a new Toronto Rehab research lab, the company leapt at the chance.

CIMCO is just one of many Canadian companies that have created extraordinary components for the lab located beneath Toronto Rehab’s University Centre. A drawbridge, overhead robot safety harness and 3D motion sensors are some of the elements produced by other companies.

The underground lab is the centrepiece of iDAPT (Intelligent Design for Adaptation, Participation and Technology), which will be one of the world’s most advanced networks of rehabilitation research and development facilities when fully completed in 2011. (Photo courtesy of S.K. Advani/IDT.)

Scientists will use the underground lab to study older people and those with disabilities as they encounter real-life challenges in a safe experimental setting. The goal: to develop practical solutions that help people live as fully and independently as possible.

Central to the whole approach are several large chambers (or payloads) that provide different settings for researchers to study interactions between people and their environment. The chambers will be lifted on and off a motion simulator that can produce a range of motions – like rolling, accelerating or pitching up and down – and different sights and sounds. For this to work, the chambers must weigh less than 10 tonnes and yet be sufficiently strong and soundproof for experiments.

Composotech Structures, a Oneworld Energy Company, of Goderich, Ont. embraced the challenge of building several chambers. Composotech used advanced composite materials and construction techniques to produce lightweight structures that can safely withstand complex motion forces. The company drew on more than a decade of experience producing simulation environments for the aerospace, military and education sectors.

One of the chambers is an “ice chamber” that can generate winter-like conditions, complete with sub-zero temperatures. Equipping it with ice and snow has been the task of CIMCO Refrigeration, a division of Toromont Industries Ltd. The official ice rink supplier for the NHL, CIMCO is also North America’s largest refrigeration contractor.

Despite almost a century in the business, the job of producing ice, snow and wind for an ice chamber to be placed on Toronto Rehab’s motion simulator is a unique project for the Toronto-based company.

“It’s an interesting challenge to create an ice floor that is moveable,” says David Sinclair, Branch Manager, CIMCO Toronto. To make the ice itself, cold fluid will be pumped in through piping on the floor. But things get trickier when the chamber begins to roll and tilt as part of experiments onboard the simulator.

“Imagine an ice cube in an ice cube tray. It’s okay to move that tray around and upside down, but as soon as you put any torque or flex to it, that’s when the ice pops out,” says Sinclair. But engineers have found a way to keep the ice anchored using a series of clips, around which the ice will form.

CIMCO also has the job of providing snow-making equipment for the ice chamber. For this, they are using a small version of the big snow machines used on ski hills.

The beauty of Toronto Rehab’s underground lab, known as the Challenging Environment Assessment Laboratory (CEAL), is that conditions will be safely controlled for study participants and scientists alike. Quanser Inc., an engineering and consulting firm headquartered in Markham, Ont., has designed highly advanced software to control the simulator, integrate all instruments and assure the safety of everyone in the environment.

Key to safety is an overhead robotic safety system, designed by Nuspark Inc. of Toronto. Anyone taking part in a research study will be strapped into a body harness connected to an overhead robot that will move with them as they go about their tasks. A pulley mechanism, like a seatbelt, will tighten immediately, but gently, to prevent injury in the event of a fall.

How to get study participants on and off the motion simulator? Pure Ingenuity, a Kingston-based company, is making a drawbridge that will carry study participants in and out of the simulator. The bridge is collapsible so that it is not in the way when the simulator is moving.

A-Tech Instruments Ltd. of Toronto is making large but super-light force plates across which study participants will walk. These plates will help scientists understand mobility by measuring forces between people and the floor, and the position of those forces.

To measure and analyze people’s motion in 3D, scientists will use sophisticated motion-tracking technology developed by PhoeniX Technologies Inc., headquartered in Burnaby, B.C.

“Creating this amazing research space has been a complex endeavour,” says Dr. Geoff Fernie, Vice President, Research, Toronto Rehab. “And it’s certainly thrown a few curves our way. We’ve been fortunate to draw on the expertise of so many Canadian companies.”

For some companies, the project has opened up new areas in which to apply their expertise. Adds David Sinclair of CIMCO: “It’s satisfying to be providing researchers with an environment they can use for studies that will benefit many people.”

The base and other parts of the motion simulator were made in The Netherlands by Bosch Rexroth and shipped to Toronto for assembly on site. A German company, domeprojection.com, is designing the sophisticated projectors for a visual dome that can be placed on the simulator. This dome will feature realistic 3D streetscapes and surround sound.

The system integration manager for the Toronto Rehab project is International Development Technology (IDT), a Netherlands-based company that brings over 20 years of experience with flight and driving simulators.

Built in collaboration with the University of Toronto, iDAPT is a $36-million initiative that has come into being thanks to contributions from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Innovation Trust, Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, Toronto Rehab Foundation and our corporate partners. For more on iDAPT, visit www.torontorehab.com.

About Toronto Rehab
Toronto Rehab is at the forefront of one of the most important and emerging frontiers in health care today - rehabilitation science. As a fully affiliated teaching and research hospital of the University of Toronto, Toronto Rehab is a leading academic provider of adult rehabilitation services, complex continuing care and long-term care. Toronto Rehab is revolutionizing rehabilitation knowledge and practice through research and education to maximize life.


Posted November 18, 2010

 

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