Theme 3: Assistive Technologies

Theme Leaders:

Associate Professor Thor Besier, University of Auckland
Associate Professor Nicola Kayes, Auckland University of Technology

Find others working in this area here.

See the Assistive Technologies presentation from the MedTech CoRE annual conference here.


Increasing numbers of people are surviving health conditions and trauma previously considered fatal, but often with significant disability and impairment. This signals a crisis for healthcare services, and makes the development of “smart” solutions that allow people to self-manage long term health conditions an urgent issue.

Research and technology needed:

Four main factors are seen as driving the development of assistive technologies in the near future:

  • Wearable sensors to monitor movement and physiology in real time
  • Wearable computers to gather and analyse data
  • Computational physiologically based models to interpret patient-specific data and provide integrated, personalised treatment
  • Digital interface and device designs to address the needs of patients and medical practitioners

This integrates and translates new knowledge from the fields of engineering, design, rehabilitation and health psychology to reduce hospital admissions and dependency on support people, and enhance participation in a meaningful life.

New Zealand’s role:

New Zealand’s contribution to this field is primarily focused on stroke and traumatic brain injury which is strongly informed by clinical and end-user needs. A specific area of research is the development of predictive models of the upper limb, able to augment functional electrical stimulation, and the use of novel ‘soft’ robotic devices to provide fine motor control of the hand and arm in stroke patients. This project will address the need to provide individualised rehabilitation strategies to match the needs and goals of each patient and improve their quality of life. Research in the assistive technology area is intimately linked to the CMDT expertise in sensing and remote monitoring, design and manufacturing technology, and software and modelling. The increasing integration of software for monitoring, assessment and delivering rehabilitation with devices provides spill over opportunities for New Zealand’s Health IT and software development companies.

Our collaborators:

Our researchers have many international collaborators and funding in the UK and the USA. The Able-X and Able-Reach upper limb rehabilitation systems developed by one of our CMDT teams is being trialled at the Royal Melbourne Hospital’s HandHub, set up to investigate the use of self-motivating home-based technologies in maximising upper limb function after stroke.

New Zealand companies:

High-tech companies in assistive technologies are an emerging sector in the medical technology industry in New Zealand. Our partners include Im-Able, StretchSense, Telemetry Research, Footfalls and Heartbeats, IMeasureU, Atlantis Healthcare and Cerebral Fix.