The National Institutes of Health awarded the New Innovator Award, a $2.3 million grant, to Robert D. Gregg, PhD, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and bioengineering in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Texas at Dallas, for his research combining robot control theory and physical rehabilitation.
The award supports the creation of prosthetic legs that coordinate with human movement and dynamically respond to the wearer’s environment by measuring a single variable that represents the motion of the leg, according to a press release.
Gregg’s research employs sensors attached to mathematically meaningful locations on prostheses and orthoses, which allow amputees to respond and control the device when their environment changes. The powered devices would theoretically eliminate the need for a team of physicians and physical rehabilitation specialists to tune and train each device to the individual wearer.
“My vision is to have off-the-shelf robotic limbs that allow the owner to pick them up at a hospital or clinic, fit them on and walk off. Right now, we are nowhere close to that. It takes days of experimental tuning to get them to work properly, and then the movement is still less than ideal,” Gregg said. “This award will allow me to spend more time leading and practicing cutting-edge research.”
Given to researchers at an early stage in their career, the New Innovator Award will cover testing of the new human phase variables on able-bodied people, as well as with individuals using prostheses and orthoses. Later phases of the 5-year award include testing this approach on leg function after spinal cord injury or stroke, according to the release.