Letter from New Delhi – Mombasa Youth Develops Robot that Helps Patients Walk Again

Seeing both his grandmothers struggling to move around with great difficulty and suffering in their old age,
a young man, originally from Mombasa in Kenya, Aliasgar Morbi, was motivated to devise a robot that
would support one of them if she fell down. 

Morbi’s family moved to Canada from Kenya over 20 years ago and settled in Ottawa. They originally came from Morbi in Gujarat.


“My grandmother suffered from Parkinson’s and I remember I used to stay up every night worrying ‘Is she going to fall when she gets up and tries to walk to the washroom?’” he said.

Now he has demonstrated a robot at the Ottawa Hospital in Canada that catches you if you fall. The “Gait Enable” robot was developed by Morbi as part of a small team of Carleton University engineering students to help people learn to walk again. This robot will help patients with physical disability or old age to steady them when they stumble and rely less of nurses or health care workers.

“If you fall, somebody has to be there,” said Morbi. “But catching a grown-up adult can lead to serious injuries for those devoted to helping patients walk. Lifting and moving patients leads to costly workplace injuries.”

So he and his fellow engineering Ph.D. students at Carleton’s Advanced Biomechatronics and Locomotion Laboratory looked into how robotics could help old people and patients. They developed the Gait Enable robot to catch patients if they fall during their physiotherapy exercises. It works like a built-in life-preserver; patients are locked in with chest straps and the robot follows behind and senses their every move as they stand and bend, or if they fall. The robot catches patients if they fall. Now Morbi and his team need to cover the robot with a shell to hide all the wires, and once they do that, they can start testing it on patients at hospitals.

Morbi developed this robot while working for his doctorate in Mechanical Engineering from 2009 to 2013. And studying for his Masters, he designed a single-DOF robotic device for assisting knee and elbow motions. He was awarded the CMBEC Outstanding Research Award and the Carleton University Senate Medal in 2009. He enrolled for his engineering degree course in 2002. 

With his team, Morbi decided to start their own company in 2012 called GaitTronics — with Gait Enable as their first main project. Morbi said he hopes the robot will free up busy hospital staff so that they can treat more patients.

While there are other devices to help patients in and out of bed or a wheelchair, he said, no robotic machine has been developed to help patients walk.

“In addition to more than nine years of R&D experience in robotics and mechatronics, I have firsthand experience bringing new technologies to market and navigating the various challenges associated with product development, marketing medical devices, managing regulatory requirements, raising capital, and bridging the gap between innovation and commercialization,” he said.

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Recycled from Junk to Art:

It started as a motor cycle but ended up as a peacock. If you look carefully, you can see its brand but the text has now become the colours of a peacock. Like the Cathedral Length Train of a bridal gown, its elegant tail sweeps the ground.

Yes, it is a crowd stopper. People stop and look in wonder at these artworks. They try to figure out what was the original utility of a junked part. Discarded parts of a motorcycle, scooter or other metal objects have been lovingly crafted into sculptures of beauty by Gopal Namjoshi at his exhibition in a leading city mall. He has the knack of transforming metal junk into works of art. He says, “As I continue to investigate these ecological conversations in metal and the junkyard I am surrounded with, my goal is to create a new dialogue and awareness about the things that we collect, consume and discard.”

These discarded objects are reshaped into graceful animals and birds. This is the message for World Environment Day. Recycling the massive waste, reusing the discarded metal and reviving the depleted nature is the main task that needs to addressed, especially on World Environment Day.

Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi

*  Published in print edition on 12 June 2015

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