Keeping Neurorehabilitation Therapy Robots in Touch with Their Creators Through Opengear’s Remote Management GatewaysOctober 31, 2014 No Comments
Featured Article By Daniel M. Drucker, Scientist at Interactive Motion Technologies
At Interactive Motion Technologies we create InMotion robots, which are used by neurorehabilitation professionals in hospital locations all over the world. Our robots use MIT-developed Assist as Needed technology, which helps moderate to severe stroke patients complete therapy designed for reacquiring and improving motor skills in impaired upper limbs. A patient’s impaired arm will be placed into a sleeve attached to the robot, and taken through a range of motions that leverage the neuroplasticity of the brain in relearning to control the body. At the beginning of therapy the robot may provide all of the movement, but as the patient regains control, the robot’s assistance tapers away, until in the end the patient is moving a passive robot through the motions.
However, with many InMotion robots dispersed worldwide, getting upgrades and enhancing security is always a challenge. This is particularly the case with those robots that have not been connected to the Internet or to local hospital intranets. Maintenance issues would arise: hard drives would fail, and minor code changes would become necessary. Researchers would occasionally request new features, requiring customization. To complete this maintenance, technicians would have to travel and work onsite. This process was expensive and time consuming – in some cases it could mean a $5000 cost and overseas travel simply to remove one character of code. Remote access could have changed major jobs like this into simple three-minute tasks.
We looked to Opengear, which makes remote monitoring hardware and software, for a solution. Our needs included obtaining remote access to offline InMotion robots in distant international locations, communicating securely with our systems, and finding a solution easy enough to implement without needing to fly a trained technician out to set it up. For many of our use cases we needed it to be so simple we could tell someone how to install it over the phone, sometimes through language barriers.
Deploying Opengear ACM5004-G-E remote management gateways to maintain our InMotion Robots worldwide has had wonderful results. Now service calls that required so much time and expense are handled remotely from our company headquarters in Boston. Our technicians can connect to InMotion robots across the world using secure cellular out-of-band connections, and SSH tunneling to a host on the Interactive Motion website. With this secure tunneling approach, the older systems we have in place are not exposed to the Internet. Additionally, our robots now have their software regularly updated over their cellular connections. Implementing Opengear’s solution at a new location is as easy as sending a box through the mail containing the gateway and asking someone on the other end to plug it in. Those small updates – that in the past would start us looking to book travel accommodations – now take minutes and are completed in our office. Replacing airline tickets and days away from work with a low cost gateway and $20 per month cell service is clearly a value that pays for itself.
The advantages of having Opengear’s gateways in place go beyond serving our needs. Patients benefit from the quick repairs to robots and reduced downtime made possible by remote connectivity. Researchers at hospitals can have special experiments and new features made available more quickly. And, unburdened from time-consuming repair work, our technical staff can focus their attention where it is most beneficial: advancing technology that better helps patients.
It used to be that we’d build our robots, and aside from possible service calls where we would travel to visit them and type on their consoles, we expected never to interact with them again. With Opengear’s gateways now in place, we are still in touch with these machines we made, issuing commands from our office in Boston out over the global cell network. At Interactive Motion we started referring to the gateways as “a miracle”, because it really does feel like magic. The next step is likely to integrate Opengear’s solution into part of our InMotion product.
Daniel M. Drucker is Scientist at Interactive Motion Technologies, a company that provides robotic tools for neurorehabilitation professionals.