New projects sponsored by the National Institutes of Health sound more like the plot in a sci-fi thriller, but the agency is hoping that extra funding will help make “co-robotics” – robots that work cooperatively with people in movement and rehabilitation – a reality.
For the third year in a row, NIH is participating in the Interagency National Robotics Initiative, which supports innovative research on assistive robotic technology. Researchers have maintained that the robots could assist patients who have suffered strokes, use wheelchairs or have been diagnosed with autism.
The National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Agriculture Department are also participating in the initiative, which will receive $2.3 million for the projects over the next five years.
“Technology is becoming more and more adaptable in all areas of our life, from GPS in cars to speech recognition technology on smart phones,” said Grace Peng, program director of rehabilitation engineering at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, 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 of the projects is designed to help stroke patients regain movement by wearing an exoskeleton robot that can therapeutically move their affected limb. Another project is geared toward children with autism spectrum disorder and would develop a music-based robot to interact with the child in an effort to stimulate their emotional and social activities.
Money for the projects, however, remains contingent upon an availability of funds. The NIH budget has tightened in recent years, and lawmakers continue to seek additional money for biomedical research, CQ Roll Call’s Emily Ethridge reports (subscription).