Medical robotics expert explores the human-machine interface

January 14, 2009

Jacob Rosen demonstrates the latest prototype of his exoskeleton arms, for which he envisions a variety of therapeutic uses. Photo by J. MacKenzie.
(PhysOrg.com) -- Jacob Rosen, associate professor of computer engineering at the Jack Baskin School of Engineering, University of California, Santa Cruz, is developing a wearable robotic "exoskeleton" that could enable a person to lift heavy objects with little effort. It's a bit like the robotic armor that has long been a staple of futuristic battle scenes in science fiction books and movies. But what excites Rosen is the device's potential to help people disabled by stroke or degenerative diseases.

"People with muscular dystrophy and other neuromuscular disabilities could use the exoskeleton to amplify their muscle strength, and it could also be used for rehabilitation and physical therapy," Rosen said.

"One of the major challenges in this field is to establish an effective human-machine interface, or 'bio-port,' between the operator and the wearable robot, such that the robot becomes a natural extension of the human body," he said. "This bio-port may be established at the neural level, allowing the human brain to control the wearable robot with the same type of signals that it uses to control its own actuators, the muscles."

Rosen joins a growing number of faculty members in Baskin Engineering who are using their expertise to tackle biomedical problems. Rosen's research focuses especially on the interface and interaction between humans and robots.

"Medical robotics is by definition a multidisciplinary field, and that's one reason I was so attracted to it," he said. "One of the most challenging issues in research and development of medical technology is to create a multidisciplinary group of clinicians and engineers that can effectively communicate and collaborate. We speak different languages, and we have to overcome these barriers in order to work together. But the opportunities to benefit people's lives are tremendous."

Rosen's current exoskeleton prototype, developed with a grant from the National Science Foundation, consists of two wearable robotic arms mounted on one wall of his UCSC laboratory. Inserting his arms into it, he notes that serious injury could result from a bad mismatch between the structure of the exoskeleton and the anatomical structure of the human arm.

Two innovations distinguish Rosen's prototype from other exoskeleton designs. One is a special design of the exoskeleton arms that allows the user to reach 95 percent of the natural range of motion, or "workspace," of the human arm. The other, which is still the subject of active research, is a method for using neurological signals to control the exoskeleton.

Rosen is also engaged in projects to develop robotic systems for performing surgical operations. "This is a huge challenge. I'll probably spend a large part of my career on this," he said.

Provided by University of California, Santa Cruz

Explore further: Black widow spiders dial up posture for survival and sex

Related Stories

Black widow spiders dial up posture for survival and sex

December 14, 2018

A new study led by Western University's Natasha Mhatre shows that body dynamics and posture are crucial to how black widow spiders decode the important vibrations that travel through their webs and up their legs. Black widows ...

Working toward partner-aware humanoid robot control

October 1, 2018

Researchers at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) have recently proposed a coupled-dynamics formalism and a new approach for exploiting helpful interactions with humanoid robots. Their paper, which was pre-published ...

Movement-enhancing exoskeletons may impair decision making

October 5, 2018

As engineers make strides in the design of wearable, electronically active, and responsive leg braces, arm supports, and full-body suits, collectively known as exoskeletons, researchers at MIT are raising an important question: ...

Recommended for you

Pushing lithium ion batteries to the next performance level

December 13, 2018

Conventional lithium ion batteries, such as those widely used in smartphones and notebooks, have reached performance limits. Materials chemist Freddy Kleitz from the Faculty of Chemistry of the University of Vienna and international ...

Uber filed paperwork for IPO: report

December 8, 2018

Ride-share company Uber quietly filed paperwork this week for its initial public offering, the Wall Street Journal reported late Friday.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.