Robotics Week Showcases How Robots Can Help Disabled

By Chuck Finder

More than a dozen Pittsburgh-area tech and business people gathered at Bakery Square recently to celebrate National Robotics Week with, among others: a Kitchenbot that unloads the dishwasher and makes dinner; the Personal Mobility and Manipulation Appliance (PerMMA) that contains robotic arms capable of unscrewing lids and other everyday chores; and the NAVISection that helps people to drive.

Innovation Works teamed with the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL), a joint project between the University of Pittsburgh and the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System as well as the pet project of Rory Cooper, Ph.D., of UPMC and Pitt, to stage the April 12 tour of 10 different robotic assistive devices for people with disabilities, recovering from strokes and more.

“We’re applying the robotic technology to help people with disability with their everyday living,” said researcher and faculty member Dan Ding, Ph.D., who directed the tour.

Added Elaine Houston, a graduate student and PerMMA researcher who next month will receive a Carnegie Science post-secondary student award: “It’s not the big things that get to people with disabilities; it’s the very, very small things. Being able to get a drink on their own, being able to reheat a meal, get the jar of pasta sauce off the top shelf at the grocery store. I love the chance to . . . provide that independence and that ability to do things on their own. I mean, from me growing up with a disability, I’ve experienced a lot of the same challenges and frustrations. So to be able to see and give those opportunities to somebody else is one of the biggest things that I love about what I do here.”