Anyone who's ever been through physiotherapy after an injury will know that it is both pretty dull and that it comes with no guarantees of success. Now, however, a robotics researcher has come up with a cutting-edge technique that promises improvements on both fronts

Hiroaki Yano of Tsukaba University near Tokyo has applied his robotics training to create a rehab treadmill that incorporates muscle learning and virtual reality in a single machine.

Not a game

The haptic machine, designed primarily to help stroke patients, looks something like a cross trainer from the gym placed in front of a high-end video game.

Like a gym trainer, there are two steps for the patient's feet. These aid movement recovery by replicating the gait of a fully able person and guiding the legs in a way that helps restore normal walking.

At the same time, the 270-degree video screen is linked to the robot and a computer in order to relay a virtual view of what might lie ahead.

Destination in mind

So, instead of looking at the wall, patients can take a stroll in a park or up a mountain – having a visible goal improves the results of the physio.

So far, testing has been encouraging, with stroke sufferers showing faster recovery times using the new method over traditional regimens, leading Yano to search for a company to produce the system commercially.