McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
faculty member Rory Cooper, PhD (pictured), is the Co-Director for the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center Quality of Life Technology (QoLT) Center, a unique partnership between Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh that brings together a cross-disciplinary team of technologists, clinicians, industry partners, end users, and other stakeholders to create revolutionary technologies that will improve and sustain the quality of life for all people. Its mission is to transform lives in a large and growing segment of the population – people with reduced functional capabilities due to aging or disability. Future compassionate intelligent QoLT systems will monitor and communicate with a person, understand his/her daily needs and tasks, and provide reliable and happily-accepted assistance by compensating and substituting for diminished capabilities.
One area of research conducted at the QoLT Center focuses on science and engineering to improve the wheelchair. As noted by Dr. Cooper, researchers are making the breakthroughs of tomorrow in applying computer modeling, rapid-prototyping, and robotics to wheelchairs to create electric-powered mobility and manipulation devices. Such devices provide people with very severe disabilities — those that affect both the use of their arms and legs — the ability to perform tasks with minimal assistance or even independently.
Rapid-prototyping and robotics provide some promising solutions to at least some of the challenges faced by people with severe mobility and manipulation, and offer hope for greater independence. Rapid-prototyping helps engineers to make models and even one-of devices in a cost effective and timely manner. This allows computer models to become physical models within days, and real systems within months rather than years. This accelerates the research and design process, and affords people with disabilities more opportunities to participate in the scientific process.
The new robotic systems to help those who use a wheelchair are developed through a holistic, human-centered design approach. The QoLT Center works with real people in the real world to ensure its technologies are sustainable, acceptable, and support a person's place in their community as well as society at large. The Center’s long-term goals are to:
- Increase employability and productivity across the life span
- Expand the range of environments in which people will be independently and safely mobile, increasing community participation
- Expand the number of people and number of years that they can live independently at home
Illustration: McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center Quality of Life Technology Center
Bio: Dr. Rory Cooper