NIH announces National Robotics Initiative awardees

The National Institutes of Health have awarded funding to six research projects aimed at developing robots that can interact and work cooperatively with people and respond to changing environments in a variety of health care applications, according to a news release. The recipients of the National Robotics Initiative will receive funding totaling up to $4.4 million, subject to the availability of funds, which will be administered over the next 4 years.

Among the six awardees, several of the projects involve work with prosthetic technology. Researchers at Carnegie-Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pa., are researching the principles involved in the biomechanical design and neuromuscular control of human legs in a variety of gaits and hope to transfer these principles to the design and control of powered leg prostheses and robotic rehabilitative devices.

Another project, conducted by researchers at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, aims to develop a lightweight and compact robotic ankle prosthesis for transtibial amputees that can generate more power and store larger amounts of energy than energy-passive prostheses.

A third project will use brain machine interface technologies to control therapeutic exoskeletons as a means of robotic rehabilitation for patients with impaired limbs due to a stroke. The researchers, based at Rice University in Houston, will combine a human-robot interface with a non-invasive brain machine to allow the patient to use his or her thoughts to control the movement of the robot to better rehabilitate limbs affected by stroke.

“Robots that can adapt to new situations and support the work and activities that people do on a daily basis are not just the future of robotics, they are already here. This work could result in more successful surgeries, better and faster recovery for stroke patients and improvements in drug development and testing,” Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, National Institutes of Health (NIH) director, stated in the release. “Affordable, accessible robotic technology can facilitate wellness and personalized, home-based health care, especially for the growing elderly and disabled population.”

The NIH worked in collaboration with the National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and United States Department of Agriculture to determine the award recipients.

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