The number of senior citizens in America grows rapidly every day, with the total senior population expected to reach 88.5 million within the next 40 years. One team of researchers hopes to make these individuals’ lives easier and healthier, thanks to an over $1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dr. Cang Ye, UALR Professor of Systems Engineering, will be working as a subcontractor on the grant, which was awarded to the University of Alabama (UA) and will be led by UA’s Dr. Xiangrong Shen. In addition to Dr. Shen and Dr. Ye, Dr. Anne Halli-Tierney of UA, Dr. Lena Ting of Emory University, and Dr. Sanford Meek of the University of Utah will also serve as principal investigators on the project.
Over the next three years, these researchers and their teams will develop the quadrupedal human-assistive robotic platform, or Q-HARP, a support device that could help seniors stay active and live independently. Similar to a walker, the Q-HARP’s user stands while utilizing it, holding on to supports on each side. However, unlike a walker, the Q-HARP’s four legs are robotically powered, providing the user with “an enhanced level of mobility,” according to the researchers. The legs bend, allowing the robot to navigate stairs, curbs, and other environmental obstacles that usually stop wheelchairs and walkers.
Funded at $64,914 for the first year, Dr. Ye’s portion of the project “will develop 3D computer vision methods for human motion analysis and human gesture recognition.” Dr. Ye, assisted by a UALR doctoral student, will create a system that monitors and detects users’ movements, making the Q-HARP both interactive and responsive. This system will minimize the risk of falling and maximize users’ control over the device. As a result, the proposed robot could help seniors stay active safely, potentially increasing their quality and length of life.
With minimal modifications, the Q-HARP could also increase senior citizens’ independence. The robot can carry small items, such as groceries, on the side while in use. Additionally, by putting the Q-HARP in “Smart Mule” mode and attaching a net in the center of it, the user can walk beside the robot while it carries a large load in the center. With these capabilities, the Q-HARP could make otherwise difficult or impossible tasks, such as shopping alone, accessible for older adults.
The researchers plan to study the physical movements and needs of real senior citizens and their caretakers to ensure that the Q-HARP is as practical and user-friendly as possible. If successful, the Q-HARP will dramatically out-perform walkers and powered wheelchairs, as well as existing comparable robotic technology.
Research reported in this publication is supported by the National Institute of Nursing Research of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R01NR016151. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.