Kinova – assistive arms

Kinova - assistive arms
Québec is a land of technological innovation – something we can be proud of. Last November we were visited by Kinova, a company specializing in robotic adaptations for the disabled, especially assistive arms. Maybe you’ve already heard of them? They are known for the creation of “Jaco”, marketed in 2009. This Canadian company, located in Boisbriand, Québec, launched into the robotics market to improve the lives of those living with upper body disabilities.
The Jaco arm is quite remarkable in that it is completely robotic. I was recently able to see it in action for myself. Using it, paralympian Eric Bussière, with severe muscular dystrophy, was able to bring his drink to his mouth. Eric competes in the sport of Boccia. Imagine always having to ask for help when you can no longer use your arms to bring a drink to your lips (maybe this is your case). An overwhelming sense of independence can be felt when you no longer require this help.

The representative from Kinova wasn’t even there to talk about the Robotic Arm, but rather to present to us their line of products. First, there was a plate with several compartments equipped with its own robotic arm and an integrated spoon. By pushing a button, the operator was able to control the movement of the spoon. One more click of the button and the robotic arm would manoeuvre the spoon to take the contents of the dish, wipe it against the side preventing the contents from falling, and approaching the spoon with its contents to the operator. How innovating! Operated by Sébastien from Kinova Robotics, who has Muscular Dystrophy himself, he tells us about the time he took this along to a restaurant. Experiencing this level of independence was great. The restaurant employees were very accommodating, and even rinsed off the plate before he left. Of course the arm cannot cut food into pieces, but we allowed ourselves to dream of a day when the technology of installing a motor from a drill could help wind spaghetti around a fork.

Afterwards, we saw the “Zero Gravity” equipment, the Gowing and Dowing power-assisted arms. This line of products assists users by removing gravity while allowing the use of residual muscular strength. The mechanical arms allow the user to lift his arms in the air. The more you squeeze the suspension arm, the higher your arms will be lifted. Moving the arm downward also requires effort. It’s like that opposite of gravity. The first arm hooks on to the desk. When developing this consideration was given to people who work at a desk and have shoulder pain and fatigue. The arm allows a person to work above the desk to which it is attached. It won’t allow you to move your arm behind your actual position and movement to the sides is limited. The other arm is attached to the wheelchair. This arm allows movement in all of the motion axis. When designing this, consideration was given to how a quadriplegic would move a wheelchair forward or backwards by using the resistance created in reinforcing muscles like the latissimus dorsi. Sébastien showed how these products could assist in physical rehabilitation in people with upper-body disabilities.

I thought about this again a few days later when I had a friend over for supper. He told me about his mother who had several places where the tendons in shoulder were torn. She loved to play the violin, but holding the instrument and the bow caused a lot of pain and fatigue. She can only play a few minutes at a time. I think that this “arm” could help her.

Kinova is a relatively new company. It was initially started to help those with upper body disabilities, but in 2017 started a new medical division with a platform called MOVO. MOVO is a “mobile manipulator platform designed to aid researchers and enable the discovery of innovative approaches and applications for mobile manipulation”

Maybe you are asking yourself if these Kinova products have already undergone studies. Studies are underway. The first one was completed on the usability of the JACO Arm Interfaces. Most people can use the arm, but a small number have difficulty controlling the joystick or pressing on the buttons.

The second(2) study had even better results proving that by using the Jaco Arm there was a 41% decrease in time required from an assistant (ex. Patient attendant or a family helper) including: time savings of 63% for hydration and eating, 55% for food and drink preparation, 37% for personal hygiene and dressing and 30% for other tasks.
To compensate for difficulties encountered while using the joystick or the buttons, other companies are working on different types of control mechanism such as an oral device controlled by the tongue. This is to assist those who are completely paralysed in the upper body (3). Vocal controls (4) are also being developed.

And when it comes to rehabilitation.

A few studies are looking into using robotic arms for rehabilitation after a stroke. These robots are somewhat different from those I referred to earlier. We discussed portable assistive devices with the Kinova representative. These arms are transportable and very useful for everyday tasks. However, when it comes to rehabilitation, studies were completed on non portable robots. These devices use a screen to provide feedback to the patients. The ArmAssistant is an example of this. The Amadeo that we use in our clinic is another example of this. This robot works the hand and the fingers exclusively.

By using these arms it has been noted that the rehabilitative benefits surpass those of traditional therapy.

To find out more……


1 – Sauzin, D., Vigouroux, N., & Vella, F. (2017). Usability of JACO Arm Interfaces Designed with a User-Centred Design Method. Studies In Health Technology And Informatics, 242573-582.

2 – Maheu, Veronique, Julie Frappier, Philippe S Archambault, and François Routhier. 2011. “Evaluation of the JACO robotic arm: clinico-economic study for powered wheelchair users with upper-extremity disabilities.” IEEE … International Conference On Rehabilitation Robotics: [Proceedings] 2011, 5975397. MEDLINE with Full Text, EBSCOhost (accessed December 29, 2017).

3 – Andreasen Struijk, L. S., Egsgaard, L. L., Lontis, R., Gaihede, M., & Bentsen, B. (2017). Wireless intraoral tongue control of an assistive robotic arm for individuals with tetraplegia. Journal Of Neuroengineering And Rehabilitation, 14(1), 110. doi:10.1186/s12984-017-0330-2

4 – Barrett, G., Kurley, K., Brauchie, C., Morton, S., & Barrett, S. (2015). Wheelchair-mounted robotic arm to hold and move a communication device – final design. Biomedical Sciences Instrumentation, 511-8.

5- Dimkić Tomić, T. J., Savić, A. M., Vidaković, A. S., Rodić, S. Z., Isaković, M. S., Rodríguez-de-Pablo, C., & … Konstantinović, L. M. (2017). ArmAssist Robotic System versus Matched Conventional Therapy for Poststroke Upper Limb Rehabilitation: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Biomed Research International, 1-7. doi:10.1155/2017/7659893