KOBE – Breakthroughs in the development of robotic arms are providing a new world of opportunity for children who are missing upper limbs.
Standard robotic arms have a built-in motor and battery and are controlled by a switch, but the myoelectric variety is externally powered and controlled by electrical signals generated naturally by one’s own muscle movements.
Hyogo Prefectural Rehabilitation Central Hospital in Kobe is a leading robotics facility that fits artificial arms to children. It has provided training in the use of such arms since 2002.
At present, some 20 children up to age 15 from Osaka, Hyogo, Nara and Hiroshima prefectures regularly visit the hospital for training. Because the number of facilities is limited, the hospital has also helped children from Kanagawa, Aichi, Kyoto and Okayama.
Yuna Kodama, 5, has been coming to the hospital from Mihara, Hiroshima Prefecture, since she was 1. She was born without her left arm below the elbow. Her mother, Sachiko Kodama, 35, reacted by keeping the girl at home as much as possible. But her husband, Tomokazu, 35, told her that they should raise Yuna as an ordinary child.
Her grandmother gives violin lessons from her home and wanted Yuna to learn the instrument. Although it is difficult for her artificial left hand to keep the bow at the correct angle, she enjoys practicing anyway.
She also has been gradually increasing her abilities by helping her mother cook and learning how to ride a bicycle.
“I just hope she will enjoy playing with other kids,” Sachiko Kodama said.
The artificial arms are not as widely used by children in Japan due in part to their high cost. On average, the robotic arms cost about ¥1.5 million apiece, the hospital said.
While government support is available in some cases, Takaaki Chin, who heads the center for robotics-based rehabilitation at the hospital, said a core facility has to be established in every region to achieve widespread use of robotic arms.
“Government subsidies for core facilities’ procurement of robotic arms for training are also necessary,” he added.
Yoshiko Tobimatsu, deputy chief of the hospital at the National Rehabilitation Center for Persons with Disabilities in Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, said, “It’s also important for doctors to know they’re available for use by children.”