An Integrated Assistive Robotics Approach
To Address Mobility Challenges
Xiangrong Shen, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, The University of Alabama
With the aging of the U.S. population, there is an increasing number of individuals suffering from mobility impairment, including the persons with lower-limb amputations, frail older adults, and individuals with neuromuscular pathologies. At the HUman-centered Bio-Robotics Laboratory (HUB-Robotics Lab) at The University of Alabama, our overarching objective is to create an integrated system of wearable robots (powered prostheses and orthoses) and legged/wheeled robotic platforms to restore and/or enhance the mobility of such mobility-challenged individuals.
To help the individuals suffering from lower limb amputations, we are exploring a biologically-inspired robotic framework to create powered prostheses with comparable functionality and appearance as biological limbs. This new approach combines a liquid propellant-powered artificial muscle actuator with a fault-tolerant myoelectric control interface to provide a lightweight and powerful robotic prosthesis that can operate for a long duration without recharging and interact with the human user in a natural and comfortable manner. Meanwhile, we are also developing robotic lower-limb orthoses (exoskeletons) for frail older adults to help them overcome the various mobility challenges they face in their daily life.
In additional to the wearable robots, we are also developing innovative legged and wheeled robots to provide enhanced assistance, support, and protection for the mobility-challenged individuals. These robotic platforms are equipped with a 3D computer vision-based human interface that enables them to follow the user’s motion without physical contact. As such, our long-term goal in this line of work is to develop practical multi-functional robotic platforms, which not only assist the mobility-challenged users, but also actively promote their health through day-to-day guided exercise. Considering the large and rapid growing older adult population (will reach 72 million, 20% of the population, by 2030), the potential benefits to society will be substantial.
Xiangrong Shen is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at The University of Alabama, where he has been a faculty member since 2008. He received his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Vanderbilt University in 2006, and subsequently completed a two-year postdoctoral training in rehabilitation robotics, also at Vanderbilt. Professor Shen’s research is focused on assistive and rehabilitation robotics, and the specific topics include robotic lower-limb prostheses, portable power-assist lower-limb orthoses, and legged/wheeled robotic platforms for assistive and therapeutic purposes. His research has been supported by multiple NSF and NIH grants, including an NSF CAREER award in 2014. He served as an Associate Editor for the journal of Control Engineering Practice from 2008 to 2014, and currently he is an Advisory Board member of the Alabama Life Research Institute.