The Rehabilitation Robotics Research Program

Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Rehabiltation Robotics


RERC on Rehabilitation Robotics, consists of a collection of research projects designed to aid persons with manipulative disabilities. National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) is the primary sponsor of this program. The projects are run under the aegis of the Rehabilitation Robotics research laboratory, at ASEL.

Table of Contents

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The Mission of this Center

The purpose of the Center is to provide individuals with severe manipulation disabilities, clinicians, educators, family members, and manufacturers, with improved technology and new information about a broad range of technologies and services.

This Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center provides a balanced approach of advanced research, technology development, and information dissemination which will:

The primary focus of the core projects is on effective interaction between robots and people who experience difficulties with mobility or manipulation. The core research projects range from speculative projects on the leading edge of technology to projects that explore innovative and common sense solutions to practical problems. The center has affiliation between the research projects and the people who will benefit from the work. This is vital to ensure that the research will be appropriate. This liaison is achieved by promoting interaction between consumers and researchers and using consumers both to define the research areas and undertake the work. The center disseminates the information gathered in the research and seeks partners in industrial sectors. The information arising from this research is disseminated by a number of vehicles, including existing databases and summer workshops to be held at the Center. It is the mission of this Center, as part of the larger rehabilitation community of advocates, service providers, educators, researchers, and manufacturers, to provide individuals with disabilities the most effective function possible so that they may pursue their educational, vocational, and independent living goals.

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Responsiveness to the NIDRR's Mission

The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research provides national leadership in rehabilitation and assistive technology research, research training, and innovation in technology service delivery. The research programs authorized under the Rehabilitation Act combine with the innovative service delivery projects sponsored by Technology-related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act (Tech Act) to establish a public thrust that advances the national capacity to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities.

This Center on Robotics to Enhance the Functioning of Individuals with Disabilities is responsive to the mission of the NIDRR. The activities of this Center reflect the philosophy that engineering and technology in rehabilitation extend beyond the traditional limitations of technical research. This program incorporates engineering research with other disciplines to address important consumer needs, and joins with others in the rehabilitation field in moving the solutions into reality.

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The Center

This RERC is administered by the University of Delaware's Center for Applied Science and Engineering in Rehabilitation, which is part of the Applied Science and Engineering Laboratories (ASEL). The ASEL united the research activities of the University Center and the Department of Applied Science and Engineering at the A.I. duPont Institute. Much of the robotics research supported by this RERC builds upon the foundation of prior robotics research conducted at the ASEL. The contribution of this new RERC is to:

The activities proposed in this application comprise a comprehensive effort to overcome these concerns by conducting research authorized under the priority. The results of the proposed projects will develop:

This RERC presents a comprehensive plan for 13 research projects and an information program.

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Constituent Oriented Research

This RERC identifies four groups of individuals who represent the constituencies served by the Center. The activities of the Center address the needs of those constituencies and involved them in the planning and execution of the projects.

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Individuals with Disabilities, their Families and Advocates

The work included in this Center is responsive to problems confronted by individuals with disabilities. These include individuals of all ages, with a variety of disabling conditions. This RERC addresses the manipulation needs of a significant portion of the national population including children and adults with cerebral palsy, children and adults with brain injury, adults with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, adults with a disability due to a brain stem infarction (including Locked in Syndrome), children and adults with arthrogryposis, children and adults with spinal cord injury, and the elderly. Members of these groups may have difficulty using their hands for control and manipulation of their environments. Each individual research project identifies the group of individuals it serves, and identifies the communication problems it addresses and the outcomes it anticipates.

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Service Providers

In addition to the potential users of robotic technology, this RERC understands that it has an obligation to meet the needs of service providers including clinicians, educators, and administrators. This includes providing them with new tools with which to better serve individuals with disabilities, and objective information on which they can base their recommendations and prescriptions. Since robotics in rehabilitation is relatively new, few clinicians are aware of the potential and even fewer are trained in the use of the technology. This RERC will address the training needs of clinicians through its Information Program.

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The RERC recognizes that the most effective way to increase the availability of new devices is to encourage the development of a strong, private sector manufacturing community. The RERC understands that there are very few manufacturers involved in rehabilitation robotics and that it has the responsibility of promoting growth in the industry.

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As the sole NIDRR center addressing Rehabilitation Robotics research, this RERC has the additional obligation of being the focal point for other technology and clinical researchers in the field. The RERC will provide a source of information on all aspects of Rehabilitation Robotics by providing timely and useful information on request to individuals and through mailings of key researchers. It will also serve this constituency by coordinating and participating in conferences that bring researchers together with individuals with disabilities, service providers, and manufacturers.

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Programmatic Themes

The new Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Robotics to Enhance the Functioning of Individuals with Disabilities includes fourteen projects which follow six themes. Five of the themes deal with aspects of the robotics process in which new devices and techniques are studied. The sixth theme is the dissemination of information about the results of Center projects and robotics in general.

The choice of these themes closely follows the technology-related research needs identified by consumers, families, clinicians, researchers, and manufacturers.

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Interface Theme

The user operation of a robot is largely influenced by the interface between the person and the machine. The physical limitations imposed by the individual's disability often make the system less than optimally effective.

A very important area of research is to define new interface strategies that give the individual maximum operation of the machine, while minimizing the effort and inconvenience to the operator. This research theme will study four new strategies that promise to enhance the operation of a robot. One looks at direct control and draws upon the NIDRR R&D project established at the University of Delaware. That project is limited to individuals with high level spinal cord injuries. The complementary project in this RERC will use the same "test-bed" and expand the application of the proprioceptive control to populations of individuals with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and arthrogryposis. The theme examines an alternative to command-based strategies with an examination of multi-modal user direction of a robot. This allows a user to mix pointing and commands in an effective system. Consideration is given to users who have very limited output and can operate only one or two switches. Extensive use of predictive control and robot path planning will be made to minimize the demands on the user. This theme also includes a project that studies the control of a powered orthosis that incorporates movements of the user's limbs and allow increased range of motion and function. Projects under this theme are:

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Application Theme

Rehabilitation robotics has great promise in many areas including the work place, school, and at home. The projects described under this theme focuses on understanding the needs of each of these environments and on developing effective and measurable demonstrations of the effectiveness of a robot in each setting.

The final project responds to the overwhelming concerns by individuals with disabilities that rehabilitation robot systems be independent of workstations and become an extension of the person. This project modifies a Manus, wheelchair mounted robot to use the direction, control, and command strategies developed in the interface theme projects. This portable robot will be used by members of the RERC staff in personal and work-related tasks. Projects under this theme are:

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Outreach and Information Theme

Information dissemination by this RERC addresses the needs of all of the Center's constituencies. This Center will continue to be a national and regional resource for knowledge about manipulation systems. Through publication of timely material, participation in national and regional conferences, and the encouragement of regional advocacy groups, the Center makes individuals with disabilities, their families, and their service providers into better informed consumers.

The Center magnifies its impact by establishing partnerships with other groups and organizations in providing an enlarged information service. Collaboration with state Tech Act grants, universities, and professional organizations allows the RERC's information to reach increasingly larger audiences. The partnerships with national electronic database services provides widespread access of the RERC's rehabilitation robotics bibliographic information. Activities under this theme area:

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Design Theme

Design is a concept that links all branches of engineering, giving structure to the creative process that acquires and uses information to define and refine products. The underlying themes of engineering design are identical whether the products are spoons or satellites. The research done by this center will not only extend the supporting knowledge required by engineering designers who specialize in rehabilitation, but will also evolve new design structures appropriate to the needs of individuals with disabilities. The failure of many rehabilitation products can be attributed to incorrect or incomplete information used to make key decisions during the design process. These research projects are exploring an innovative design technique where these decisions are shared and there is no distinction between the consumer and the designer.

Proposed under this theme are:

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Assessment Theme

There are three roles for assessment in this research center. The first is to assess the robotics products already available. This assessment will not only define the capabilities of existing products, but will also assess their reliability and safety. The second is to assess the needs of people who have mobility and manipulative disabilities. This information must be compiled with close consumer involvement and without a preconception of the solution. The third is to define the discrepancies between the needs and the products and publicize this information to encourage the development of appropriate technology.

The project that address this theme is:

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System Coordination Theme

Systems integration is an acknowledged theme in modern engineering practice and this rehabilitation engineering research center will encourage system coordination work between the rehabilitation engineering research centers on Wheelchair Mobility, Augmentative and Alternative Communication Devices, and the European M3S consortium.

The project under this theme is:

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[Robotics] [ASEL]


Last updated: November 6, 1996 by Zunaid Kazi <>