Innovative paraplegic rowing technology showcased to MPs

Monday, 03 March 2008

Professor Brian Andrews showcases transforming rowing technology to MPs.

Specially adapted rowing equipment that has opened up sporting opportunities for people with spinal injuries will be showcased to MPs on Wednesday 5 March.

Professor Brian Andrews, of the School of Technology at Oxford Brookes University, has led the FES (Functional Electrical Stimulation) rowing project internationally for over 14 years along with researchers from the London Regatta Centre, the Spinal Injuries Unit at the RNOH in Stanmore and the Universities of Brunel, Glasgow. Harvard and Alberta.

Using the technology, paraplegic rowers have gone on to compete alongside able-bodied athletes at major tournaments like the British and World Indoor Championships using adapted rowing machines. Recently, the technology was also demonstrated on-water. One world champion, Tom Aggar, uses a FES rowing machine to train for adaptive rowing and is hoping to make his Paralympic debut in Beijing this summer.

The technology, which will be demonstrated by Robin Gibbons (pictured) works by stimulating muscle contractions by applying electrical pulses through electrodes attached to the skin.

This electrical activation enables the movement of the legs to produce a rowing motion. In the simplest arrangement, the rower can control each stroke by pressing and releasing a switch - a computer system ensures that the coordination of movements between the upper and lower body is as smooth as possible.

FES rowing offers a whole-body work out with a number of important health benefits, such as the reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

The project will be showcased as part of the launch of the ATcare Design and Development Centre that plans to work with researchers and innovators across the UK. ATcare aims to support more products to get to market to improve the quality of products available to disabled and older people.

Professor Brian Andrews said: “We are delighted to be exhibiting the FES rowing project as part of this event. The technology has helped people with spinal injuries to participate in more health, leisure and sporting activities and plays an important part in rehabilitation. Indeed, some have gone onto to compete at the very highest levels.”

Professor Andrews and his team continue to develop the technology and investigate the health benefits. He has recently been awarded a number of research grants including two by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to develop an enhanced rowing simulator for elite paraplegic and able-bodied rowers and to run an FES Sports Festival.

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