What is robotics and how can it help or support people with disabilities?

According to the Britannica Encyclopedia, robotics is the “design, construction, and use of machines (robots) to perform tasks done traditionally by human beings.” Robots may be used in such industries as automobile manufacture to perform simple repetitive tasks, and in industries where work must be performed in environments hazardous to people. People with disabilities may use robots or robotic devices to help or support communications, to travel from place to place, and to participate in their communities, among other functions. Some aspects of robotics may involve artificial intelligence, or AI. Through robotics and AI, robots may be equipped with the equivalent of our senses, such as vision, touch, or the ability to sense temperature. Current research into robotics and AI is geared toward devising robots with some self-sufficiency that may permit mobility and decision-making in an environment that is not structured.

Research and development into robotics and engineering may help people with disabilities to live as independently as possible and to participate in their community. For example, Rory A. Cooper, PhD, a researcher with over 300 coauthored articles on robotics, wheeled mobility, and other engineering topics in the NARIC collection, discusses how research and development activities related to robotics and engineering can help and support people who use wheelchairs in the article Robotic Systems Help People with Disabilities. In this article from the National Science Foundation, Dr. Cooper discusses some of the areas in which science and engineering are making breakthroughs in applying computer modeling, rapid prototyping, and robotics to create electric-powered mobility and manipulation devices and how such devices provide people with mobility disabilities or other physical disabilities the ability to perform tasks with minimal assistance, or even independently.

NARIC’s information specialists searched the NIDILRR Program Directory and found over 50 NIDILRR-funded current and completed projects on robotics and people with disabilities. These projects’ research and development activities include spinal cord injury and robotics, sensory technology applied to rehabilitation in people with stroke, assessing the mechanical efficiency of manual wheelchairs using robotic propulsion, and multifunctional robotic assistive arms for activities of daily living assistance, among others. NARIC’s Research In Focus series has covered interesting results of robotics research, including Robotic Exoskeletons May Provide Health Benefits for People with Spinal Cord Injuries, which is also available in Spanish. NARIC’s information specialists also searched REHABDATA and found over 1900 articles on robotics and people with disabilities from the NIDILRR grantee community and beyond.

Contact NARIC’s information specialists if you need more information about robotics for people with disabilities or if you need help in conducting searches in REHABDATA or in the NIDILRR Program Directory.

About mpgarcia

I'm the Bilingual Information/Media Specialist at NARIC.
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