Projects investigating co-robotics, robots that work cooperatively with people, are the focus of new funding from the National Institutes of Health. The new research in robotics may help with stroke rehabilitation, guide wheelchairs and assist children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, according to a news release.
This is the third year NIH has participated in the Interagency National Robotics Initiative to support research to develop innovative co-robots. Funding for these projects totals approximately $2.3 million over the next five years. Technology is becoming more and more adaptable in all areas of our life, from GPS in cars to speech recognition technology on smart phones, Grace Peng, PhD, program director of rehabilitation engineering at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, said in the release. With these awards, we hope to encourage robotics researchers to think of new ways to apply their technology in the realm of healthcare.
One project hopes to provide stroke patients with at-home therapy tools to recover limb movement via lightweight robotic exoskeletons that can be placed on an affected arm and can deliver the kind of therapeutic guidance found at a rehabilitation center.
A second project being funded by the NIH hopes to provide a solution for elderly and disabled patients who have limited hand functionality and who rely on wheelchairs for mobility. The aim is to create a system and chair that can be controlled by the users head movements and will adapt to each individual user. A camera placed on glasses worn by the user can capture head movements designed to control the chair as well as adapt to individual users by gaining information as the patient responds to various situations in natural ways (such as turning their head as their attention shifts), according to the release. The hope is that the robotic wheelchair will be able to operate almost completely autonomously and only ask for human control on an as-needed basis.
Another project aims to develop a music-based system that will help children with ASD interact with a robotic companion in a safe and natural manner. According to the release, recent studies have shown improvements in social skills among children with ASD who were encouraged to improvise with musical instruments or song.
For more information about NIH and its programs, visit NIH.gov.