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Research Projects

A Soft Robotic Manipulator for the Mobility Impaired

Whitney Crooks, PhD candidate in Mechanical Engineering

Chris Rogers, Mechanical Engineering
Bill Messner, Mechanical Engineering

Each year, thousands of people suffer spinal cord injuries or strokes that render them virtually immobile. Additionally, millions of people worldwide are living with diseases (like MS and ALS) and congenital defects that impair their movement.

For my PhD research, I plan to expand upon the research I did as part of the SMR program and move from looking specifically at controls for soft robots to the integration of soft materials into assistive devices.

My research involves the development of a soft Tele-operable In-Home Robotic Assistant (TIHRA) in order to help the mobility impaired gain more autonomy while also helping their care-providers provide better care. TIHRA utilizes a manipulator, adapted from the Fin Ray Effect, and a soft, variable stiffness pneumatic arm that can be attached to the wheelchair or bedside of a disabled person that can then be used to help them perform daily tasks, such as eating or picking up objects. The robot will be capable of tele-operation so that the care-provider(s) can provide support when it is desired or required. TIHRA will allow people with limited mobility to retain and make new social contacts, something that we as a species strongly desire, which will allow for more normal lives. My goal after finishing my PhD is to see my work realized in the form of a startup.

View video to see TIHRA in action at the 2016 RoboSoft Grand Challenge in Livorno, Italy.