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Device Helping Infants With Disabilities Learn to Crawl Showcased at Smithsonian Innovation Festival

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UCP was invited to The Smithsonian Innovation Festival to talk with Dr. Peter Pidcoe and Dr. Thubi Kolobe about their invention the Self-Initiated Prone Progressive Crawler or the SIPPC. The device was developed through a collaboration that came about when Dr. Kolobe, a physical therapy professor and researcher at The University of Oklahoma, and came to Dr. Peter Pidcoe, a Mechanical Engineer and Physical Therapist at Virginia Commonwealth University, with an idea: create a device that helps infants learn for themselves. When Dr. Kolobe began her research with young infants, particularly those who were not hitting normal motor milestones in development, specifically crawling, and wanted to find a way to help these children learn to move for themselves. She immediately knew the person she wanted to partner with on this project: Dr. Peter Pidcoe, her old colleague when they worked together at The University of Illinois at Chicago.   

20150926_125859The bodysuit that is placed on top of the infant.
20150926_125054The pieces used to create the SIPPC (underneath).

The following year, the SIPPC was born and evolved to have three different infant-controlled prototypes that help to assist movement. Taking into account both infant learning strategies and some engineering, an infant on the SIPPC is assisted during crawling by monitoring how they are moving, where they are shifting weight, and how they are moving their limbs. The motors under the SIPPC are used to guide the infant in their desired direction.

The SIPPC has continued to be refined and tested over time. Algorithms were created using the data collected by Dr. Kolobe. Information from the SIPPC  is used to better understand the movement development in children with neuromuscular disorders. One of the main goals in the design was making sure the device was user friendly and appropriate for the children. This meant making the device was wireless and covered to insure the baby’s comfort. The entire process from design to reality took several years, and the SIPPC has continued to evolve into what was displayed at the Festival, becoming a device suitable for the commercial market.

Using the SIPPC and a toy as motivation, Dr. Kolobe has been able to measure and record infants movements to get a sense of how they learn. Multiple funded trials have been undertaken to better understand the growth and development of infants as they learn to crawl. “It’s about autonomy” Dr. Kolobe says. Current prototypes have been constructed with both parents and therapists in mind. The SIPPC is not currently on the market, but the hope is to have them available in the near future. The prototypes were made in part using a 3D printer and a CNC machine.“The technology to me is priceless”, says Dr. Kolobe. “Without it, we would be waiting for a long time [for a device like this].”

20150926_124918Smart phone technology used for one of the prototypes.
20150926_124833One of the SIPPC prototypes created by Dr. Pidcoe.

The SIPPC is currently being used by Dr. Kolobe to understand brain patterns associated with movement to better understand how infants go about the decision-making process. The NSF-funded trial should be completed at the end of the year. Dr. Pidcoe continues to refine the design and apply it  for children with a various disabilities, including those who are visually-impaired.

For more information on the SIPPC and the Smithsonian Innovation Festival, click here.

For more information on VCU’s Physical Therapy Program, click here.

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A very special thank you to Dr. Peter Pidcoe and Dr. Thubi Kolobe for their contributions to this piece and to Sue Patow at Virginia Commonwealth University for helping to make this post possible.

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