Professor’s device shows promise for improving infants’ mobility

Logan Bogert

Contributing Writer

Three of every 1,000 children in the United States lives with cerebral palsy, making it the most common child disability in the nation.

VCU professor and Assistant Chair in the Department of Physical Therapy Peter Pidcoe has devised a device to help infants with a neurological disorder like cerebral palsy. It’s called the Self-Initiated Prone Progressive Crawler, or the SIPPC for short, and it was designed to help affected children  improve their mobility early on.

“The idea came from Thubi Kolobe, a professor at Oklahoma University and I,” Pidcoe said. “She had noticed a loss of early movement in children with cerebral palsy over time and wanted to devise a way to promote and positively reinforce early developmental movements. She asked me for help and I built the SIPPC.”

Kolobe and Pidcoe began the SIPPC project at Oklahoma University  in 2003, and the first infants were tested on by 2005. The project was funded by multiple different foundations including the Cerebral Palsy Foundation and the American Physical Therapy Association. Total developmental funding totaled almost half a million dollars.

Different modes on the device account for the way SIPPC interacts with infants. Each mode produces a distinct motion. In the positional mode, the device reacts to platform distresses. For example, if the child rolls in the wrong direction, the SIPPC motor will turn on to assist. The next mode, force plate mode, makes the device move in the direction the infant shifts their body weight.

Lastly, in accelerometer mode, the infant has sensors on their extremities to detect their crawling motions. The SIPPC can react to their crawling movements and help move the child in that direction. Pidcoe and Kolobe are also working on a head gesture control system that will move in the direction the infant is looking.

Pidcoe said he saw that children using the SIPPC device had increased mobility soon after testing began. The SIPPC is a patented device but does not have a manufacturer at this time. Kolobe and Pidcoe are continuing to further research to improve the design of the SIPPC.

“We are also looking for a commercial partner,” Pidcoe said. “The Innovation Gateway here at VCU has been instrumental in that process.”

Innovation Gateway at VCU began 21 years ago to protect and commercialize VCU inventions and creations. Their mission is to build collaborations with companies to give external support to VCU inventors.

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