September 17, 2013

WPI Gets Funding For Assistive Robot Research

Researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute working to develop personal assistant robots for the elderly have received a five-year federal funding award.

According to WPI, the collaboration between the school's robotics engineering program and social sciences and policy studies department has received the $125,000 award from the National Science Foundation.

Researchers involved in the project will advise 10 undergraduate capstone design projects in the investigation, design, implementation and validation of robotic technologies that will assist people with general and age-related disabilities, WPI said. A key component to the research is to develop assistive robots that blend into everyday life and avoid stereotyping or discrimination against elderly people.

"The novel part about this grant is that these robots don't currently exist," said Taskin Padir, assistant professor of robotics engineering at WPI and principal investigator for the award. "The design is going to be very user-centered."

Jeanine Skorinko, associate professor of psychology and director of WPI's psychological science program, is co-principal investigator and said students will develop robots that can help with shopping or assistive tasks like carrying trays or purses.

As the project continues, students will also design companion robots, WPI said.

The award includes collaboration with the University of Massachusetts Medical School's Center for Integrated Primary Care, and the team also plans to develop collaborations with middle and high schools in Worcester, the Worcester Public Library and regional science centers. The reason being that a goal of the project is to give a new generation of students knowledge about the needs of individuals with disabilities.

Padir and Skorinko believe the multidisciplinary nature of the research and educational experience will prompt WPI students, as well as K–12 students, to further explore the fields.

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