Students make hippotherapy more accessible with robotic horse

It could provide an option for those that can't access live therapy horses.

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Jeff Fitlow/Rice University
Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Mechanical engineering students at Rice University have designed a robotic horse that can mimic the movements of the real thing. The device, dubbed Stewie, is geared towards individuals requiring equine-assisted therapy, also known as hippotherapy, who may not be able to travel to or afford a facility that offers it. Hippotherapy is believed to be able to help patients develop coordination, balance and posture while also fostering a relaxed state during which other beneficial therapies can be administered. And Stewie could provide a way for more people to benefit from hippotherapy.

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The students have been working on the project for a while and they collected accelerometer data from real horses at a ranch in Texas. That data was used to develop code that can control the six degrees of motion freedom that Stewie has and different programs can offer different types of gait, meaning therapists could choose which horse-riding simulations are best for each individual patient.

Though the students will be graduating soon, they want to make sure Stewie lives on, so they've been sure to use materials anyone can find and will make their code and schematics open source. They'll be available for free online so anyone can replicate or build upon their designs. You can check out Stewie in the video above.

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