NIH funds a trio of robots to improve health, life quality for the disabled

The co-robot awards went to a smart walker for the elderly being developed by University of Alabama professor Xiangrong Shen; a hand-worn device to help the visually impaired grasp objects from University of Arkansas professor Cang Ye; and a developmental social robot companion and playmate for kids created by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Cynthia Breazeal.  “When the general public thinks about the research that NIH supports, they don’t usually imagine robots,” said Grace Peng, program director of Rehabilitation Engineering at NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, in a statement.  “But robots have a tremendous potential to contribute to the health and well-being of our society, whether they are helping an elderly person engage in physical activity or promoting the curiosity of a child.  These three highly innovative projects demonstrate the power of encouraging leaders in the field of robotics to focus their attention on solving issues that pertain to health.”

Other U.S. governmental agencies including the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Defense have also funded co-robot projects this year, the NIH noted.

The newly funded smart walker project is intended to enhance mobility for the elderly without requiring them to make the accommodations necessary for a wheelchair.  It would function not only as a smart, power-assisted walker but also as a “smart mule” to walk alongside the user and carry a heavy load.

The hand-worn assistive device is designed to aid the visually impaired in finding moveable obstacles and then maneuvering them, as well as help in grasping and manipulating other everyday objects.  It is based on computer vision and natural feedback mechanisms.  Finally, the social robot would create an autonomous, long-term social robotic companion for preschoolers that’s intended to help them learn and play.

REFERENCE:  Fierce Medical Devices; 04 DEC 2015; Stacy Lawrence

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