UCL Division of Surgery and Interventional Science


Instrumented Tricycle

Two students from ULB in Belgium describe how biomedical engineering is used to convert a recumbent tricycle into a device that can be used by people with spinal cord and other major injuries.

Feet peddling a recumbent tricycle

1 August 2016

Transforming a tricycle

During my last year studying biomedical engineering, I had the opportunity to take professional training abroad. That's how I found myself working at Aspire CREATe.

I worked on a recumbent tricycle for 12 weeks. When this bike is equipped with an electrical stimulation system, it allows spinally injured patients to ride again thanks to special ankle-orthosis and a few electrodes on their leg muscles.

This system could solve a major issue for this kind of patient, as it enables them to continue physical exercise and avoid deterioration of their cardiovascular fitness, bone health, and general well-being. 
My job was to instrument the tricycle with different sensors and develop an interface on the computer to easily record synchronized data from all the sensors while a patient is riding.

Once the system was functional, I tested it with colleagues. It was nice to see my system working, with colleagues in sports kit doing physical exercise. I also established a protocol to address a hypothesis over the cycling efficiency and then analyse the real data I had acquired with my system. 

This training was an enriching personal experience in an international environment where engineering and medicine students can exchange thoughts, knowledge, and collaborate.

Antoine Mouraux, MSc in Biomedical Engineering, ULB (Belgium), 2015

A screen showing various types of chart

Gathering data for testing

At Aspire CREATe, the lab team mainly develops projects for the purpose of enhancing the quality of life of people with disabilities, such as (but not limited to) those that result from a spinal cord injury, stroke and amputation.

I worked with a recumbent tricycle, previously modified to be suitable for FES cycling. However, due to the poor power output that disable people can produce, this device cannot be used as a recreational nor a rehabilitation tool.

The tricycle was equipped with different systems allowing the adjustment of mechanical variables such as the cycling resistance (friction on the back wheel) and ankle angle freedom. My job was to study the impact of those variables on the power output of able-bodied users, with the aim of optimising them to maximise the latter.

I started by defining proper sound statistical questions. Then I defined a protocol for data acquisition that would collate all possible values of the variables. The protocol was then approved by UCL ethics committee, and I was allowed to start recruiting volunteers for the data collection. 

Meanwhile, the functions necessary for pre-processing and data analysis were coded and made accessible via a Matlab interface. The final step was to analyse the collected data and present the results to the team.

This internship was very valuable. I love that you can see directly how helpful your projects can be to people. I also like the fact that everything that is developed in this field is meant to be useful and to answer real needs.

Elisabeth de Halleux, MSc in Biomedical Engineering, ULB (Belgium), 2016