The NIH recently announced it will fund the development of co-robots — robots that work cooperatively with people. As part of the National Robotics initiative, the NIH will fund three co-robots, one of which will aim to improve mobility in elderly individuals. According to a press release, the NIH will spend about $2.2 million during 5 years on the three projects.
“When the general public thinks about the research that NIH supports, they do not usually imagine robots. 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,” Grace Peng, PhD, program director of Rehabilitation Engineering at the NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, said in the release. “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.”
The project to create a smart walker to increase mobility in elderly individuals will be led by Xiangrong Sheng, PhD, an associate professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. Shen and colleagues will develop a four-legged robot with two modes: a smart power-assist walker and a smart mule. The power-assist mode will allow users to choose a level of power assistance while they are situated within the robot. The smart mule mode will allow users to walk unassisted while the robot walks alongside them and carries a load, such as groceries. The robot will use a 3-D computer vision-based sensing system to detect both the user’s motion and the environment, and will have smart legs to surmount environmental obstacles more easily than a wheelchair.
The other two projects will include a hand-worn device to help people with visual impairments grasp objects and a social-robot companion for children.
Disclosure: The researchers report the smart walker project is funded jointly by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, the National Institute of Nursing Research, and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development grant NR016151.