4 Helpful Robots Being Funded By Government Research

photo by Ekso Bionics via Flickr

As a part of a multi-million dollar, nationally funded robotics initiative, helpful robots, otherwise known as co-robots, will soon be assisting physicians, the elderly, and many more.

If a $31.5 million grant is any indication, co-robots will be helping people in their workplaces and home sooner rather than later.

As a part of the National Robotics Initiative the National Science Foundation, the Department of Agriculture and NASA have started funding the development of robots that work cooperatively with people.

The 52 research grants range in amount from $300,000 to $1.8 million and are focused on developing a host of important robot dynamics like sensing, vision, and machine-learning.

So just how will these robots be assisting humans in the future? Below are some future co-robots, and how they’ll help us.


Robots controlled by your mind

Money awarded: $558,527


As we’ve covered previously, devices controlled by one’s brain signals are (astoundingly) already in use.

According to a grant titled “Human Cognition Assisted Control of Industrial Robots for Manufacturing,” developers plan on using this mind control technology to augment not just the way we play video games, but how we control skilled robots in factories, hospitals, and even space exploration.

Using a computer to brain interface, these robots could be operated entirely via our brain’s electrical signals. By scanning the user’s brain activity and translating it algorithmically to the robot these machines could soon be reading our minds.

Researchers (and workers alike) hope the development could help robotize processes in a way that advances productivity while still retaining a human element, and more specifically, human jobs.

Though the technology could be applied across a number of fields, this specific grant focuses in on the manufacturing process. According to the abstract, researchers are targeting three specific manufacturing processes, which include assembly, direct control, and quality control.

Robots for medical sanitation

Money awarded: $75,243

Exemplified by 2014’s Ebola epidemic, even the simplest of medical mistakes (i.e. improperly removing one’s gloves) can be costly.

Though seemingly simple, field safety protocols for treating deadly illnesses can sometimes become quite complex. This is where co-robots come in.

According to a project titled “Robot-assisted Doffing of Personal Protective Equipment,” robots which help doctors “doff,” or sanitize, their equipment are under development.

Through automation these robots could significantly cut down on the exposure and consequently the spread of dangerous pathogens by eliminating stressed doctors (and therefore margin for human error) from the sanitizing process.

If you ever wanted to know how difficult putting on and removing personal protective equipment for Ebola treatment can be, here is a 20 minute instructional video that will likely make your mind go numb:

Robots that fix bridges  

Money awarded: $578,567


Bridges across the U.S. are often under-evaluated and overused, creating a danger for motorists everywhere. With the help of safety analysis robots, however, we may be able to avoid the catastrophic.

As a part of a project titled, “Minimally Invasive Robotic Non-Destructive Evaluation and Rehabilitation for Bridge Decks,” researchers are aiming to develop a robotic system for bridges that:

  • Analyzes and diagnoses structural integrity in real-time
  • Helps institute cost-effective repairs in a timely manner
  • Is augmented by human operation to avoid stopping the flow of traffic

On top of saving lives through the robotic analysis of bridges, researchers state:

“The project also includes a number of integrated research and education programs to attract students from underrepresented groups into engineering and involve students into robotics research.”

Robots that help infants to crawl

Money awarded: $1,159,000

Researchers hope that by developing assistive co-bots that support a child with or at risk of developing cerebral palsy that they may significantly reduce the long-term physical limitations, and even some cognitive effects.

The “Robot Assistants for Promoting Crawling and Walking in Children at Risk of Cerebral Palsy” grant hopes that through using a robot which positively reinforces correct methods of movement that they may teach infants with cerebral palsy to crawl and/or walk.

By intervening at an early age, the robot may be able to nip locomotory problems in the bud, lessening the impact in adult life.

For a video demonstration, click here.


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James Pero