NIH Funding Robots

NIH www.nih.gov as part of the National Robotics Initiative (NRI) along with the National Science Foundation www.nsf.gov, NASA www.nasa.gov, USDA www.usda.gov, and the Department of Defense www.defense.gov are developing new co-robots.

NIH is funding the development of three innovative co-robots projects for $2.2 million over the next five years. Two of the robots will improve the health and quality of life for individuals with disabilities and the third project will serve as a social robot companion for children.

Funding for the first robot has been awarded to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa www.ua.edu to develop a four legged robot with two modes. The first mode will help the elderly use a smart power assist walker where the user can choose the amount of powered assistance needed.

The second mode referred to as “smart mule” mode, helps the elderly by walking alongside the user while carrying a load. This robot uses a 3-D computer vision-based sensing system to detect the user’s motion and the environment. The robot’s smart legs are able to easily overcome environmental obstacles in ways that powered wheelchairs cannot. Both of these robot projects were funded by NIBIB www.nibib.nih.gov, NINR www.ninr.nih.gov and NICHD www.nichd.nih.gov Institutes within NIH.

Another robot project funded by the National Eye Institute http://nei.nih.gov will help the University of Arkansas at Little Rock www.uams.edu create a hand-worn assistive device that uses computer vision to identify target objects in a user’s environment. The computer is then able to determine misalignment between the user’s hand and the object and help the user know what type of hand motion is needed to grasp the object.

A third robot funded by NICHD to be developed at MIT http://web.mit.edu will create an autonomous long term social robotic companion for children that will promote and assess curiosity and a growth mindset through various interactions. After developing the robot, the plan is to evaluate the robot’s influence by conducting a six month longitudinal study where children learn and play while interacting with the robot companion.

Go to www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=503641 for more information on the National Robotics Initiative.

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