The National Institutes of Health have just invested $2,200,000 in robotic health devices, including the Smart Walker.
The Smart Walker is being developed by Dr. Xiangrong Shen at the University of Alabama. This walkable robot has four jointed smart legs and can operate in two different modes: smart power assist and smart mule.
1. Smart Power Assist
In this mode, the user walks within the robot and uses it like they would a traditional walker. They can adjust the power of the assistance the Smart Walker provides.
2. Smart Mule
In this mode the walker walks beside the user and carries things like groceries.
To detect its user’s movement and the surrounding environment, the Smart Walker uses a 3D vision based system. The fact that it has legs allows it to navigate terrain that powered wheelchairs cannot.
In addition to to the Smart Walker, the NIH has invested in two other robotic devices. One is a hand worn device developed by Dr. Cang Ye at the University of Arkansas that helps visually impaired people grasp objects more easily. This device will also increase a user’s mobility by helping them “identify moveable obstacles and manipulate them so that they can pass” and helping them grasp objects such as door handles.
The other device is a companion robot developed by Dr. Cynthia Breazeal at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology intended to help children be curious and learn as they go about their day.