Editors' ChoiceROBOTICS

Money for Robots

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Science Translational Medicine  06 Nov 2013:
Vol. 5, Issue 210, pp. 210ec181
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3007889

It’s only a matter of time until some of our best friends are robots. On 24 October 2013, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced three awards—totaling $38 million, subject to the availability of funds—for the design of next-generation robots that collaborate with humans. These “co-robots” are expected to help people adapt in changing environments, to enhance selected human capabilities, and to perform medical procedures in a safer and more effective manner. The awards are part of the National Robotics Initiative (NRI), a partnership among several federal agencies. The newly funded projects include a co-robotic cane for the visually impaired, a co-robotic catheter that compensates for physiological movements (such as heart beat and blood flow) while a patient undergoes magnetic resonance imaging, and a wearable robot for stroke patients. All three devices respond to changes in the environment. The cane will use “computer vision” to detect structures and obstacles. The catheter will help to guide surgeons when performing ablations to treat atrial fibrillation. A wearable, powered brace for the ankle can improve strength and mobility but will also include a platform that permits researchers to test and compare robotics technologies by measuring physiological outcomes.

A new program announcement for NRI applications can be found at www.nsf.gov/pubs/2014/nsf14500/nsf14500.htm. For fiscal year 2014, NRI will focus on projects designed to develop “assistive robotic technology” that enhances independence, assists with personalized health care, and promotes wellness—all desirable qualities for a new “BFF.”

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