McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
faculty member Rory Cooper, PhD, leads the staff and mission of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories, or HERL, a partnership between the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System. Now located in about 40,000 square feet in Bakery Square, the former Nabisco plant in Larimer, Pennsylvania, HERL strives to continuously improve the mobility and function of people with disabilities through advanced engineering and medical rehabilitation research. HERL is one of the worldwide leaders of research and development that increases mobility and function for people with disabilities.
The vast array of research programs of HERL aims to improve a wheelchair user’s independence and quality of life. One area of interest is in the development of new power wheelchair control devices for people with multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, and limited hand strength. The staff of HERL is also collecting data on the biomechanics of the human body of people who use wheelchairs. This information will permit the development of better assistive devices and advance safer propulsion and transfer techniques that reduce arm injuries. HERL has the most comprehensive wheelchair testing laboratory in the U.S., equipped to test manual and power wheelchairs for compliance with International Wheelchair Standards. The HERL technical staff helped create these standards which dictate the criteria for wheelchair durability and safety. Another achievement of HERL team members is the invention of the forward folding wheelchair. This wheelchair model, when compacted, fits in an airplane overhead bin. It also is designed for use in the very compact aisle inside of an airplane.
Through Dr. Cooper’s leadership, the staff of HERL is eager to continually find solutions to problems that exist for all individuals who use wheelchairs and other forms of assistive technology. HERL’s team members consist of engineers, machinists, clinicians, research specialists, as well as graduate students and medical interns in the rehabilitation field. HERL’s dedicated staff takes their expertise in bioengineering, exercise physiology, robotics, epidemiology, rehabilitation counseling, and physical and occupational therapy and repeatedly exceeds their research goals.
Illustration: Human Engineering Research Laboratories.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (04/09/09)
Human Engineering Research Laboratories website
Human Engineering Research Laboratories video
Bio: Dr. Rory Cooper