'Smart' cane among the robotic projects landing federal grants

Development of a "smart" cane that can send navigation information to the user is just one of the projects funded through $38 million in federal grants awarded as part of the National Robotics Initiative.

It's the second round of funding doled out by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and NASA since the initiative began two years ago, according to an NSF release.

The funding provides grants to 30 new projects, including efforts to improve prostheses and robotic sensing, over the next three years.

Among the projects:

  • A helper robot sensitive to people with Parkinson's disease, whose ability to display emotion can be diminished.
  • A device that makes it easier for surgeons to assess difficult-too-see locations in the body while performing minimally invasive surgery.
  • Artificial hands that can be controlled via brainwaves.
  • A collaboration between Carnegie Mellon University and North Carolina State University focusing on a wearable exoskeleton with powered braces for the lower extremities to improve mobility for people with impaired strength and coordination, according to an NIH announcement.

Proposals for the next round of funding will be accepted through Jan. 21.

Meanwhile, microscopic robots might someday nip nasty bugs in the bud before they ever make you sick, Dr. Shree Singh, director of the Center for NanoBiotechnology Research at Alabama State University, recently told a NanoBio Summit audience. Singh's group focuses on viral and antibacterial research. His department was awarded a $1.5 million NIH grant earlier this year, reports the Montgomery Advertiser.

Robots that use rubbery appendages to reduce surgical damage – a project that grew out of Harvard University's Whitesides Research Group – was funded through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) initiative on how soft robots might be used as battlefield medical tools.

It likely would be some time before soft robots could perform as well as the increasingly popular da Vinci surgical systems, though those systems have their critics.

To learn more:
- read a NSF release
- find the NIH announcement
- check out the proposal requirements
- here's the Advertiser article