Robot centered research aids in stroke rehab, wheelchair guidance

New robotics research at the National Institutes of Health will focus on assisting people with disabilities, including a guidance system for wheelchairs and a project focusing on stroke rehabilitation.

For the third year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will provide funding for the Interagency National Robotics Initiatives (NRI) to support research to develop innovative co-robots, robots that work cooperatively with people.

“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, stated in a press release. “With these awards, we hope to encourage robotics researchers to think of new ways to apply their technology in the realm of health care.”

One NRI project, based at the University of Michigan, will provide people recovering from stroke with a lightweight robotic exoskeleton for their affected arm. The exoskeleton is mean to extend therapy into the home and help patients with limb recovery by guiding them through goal-directed, purposeful movements.

A second project aims to find a solution for elderly and disabled patients with limited hand functionality, who rely on wheelchairs for mobility. Researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., will work to create a wheelchair and accompanying system that can adapt to an individual user and adjust to his or her head movements. Users will wear glasses with an attached camera that can capture had movements designed to control the car. The system also will gain information about the user and adapt to situation responses.

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Disclosure: The NRI also is supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Agriculture.

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