McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine
affiliated faculty members Rory Cooper, PhD, FISA/PVA Endowed Chair and a Distinguished Professor, and Dan Ding, PhD, assistant professor, both of the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Pittsburgh, are members of the Personal Mobility and Manipulation Appliance (PerMMA) research team at the Quality of Life Technology (QoLT) Center. QoLT is a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center and the collaborative effort of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh scientists and engineers. In its article, “Rise of the Helpful Machines,” Popular Science magazine recently named its 10 most promising robots, and PerMMA—a mobile robotic manipulator with a seat for a person—made the list.
At QoLT, the objective of the PerMMA device is to combine manipulation and mobility assistance with perception and decision making wherever a person goes. PerMMA’s multi-disciplinary project combines mobility, bimanual robotic manipulation, machine perception, path planning, controls, and user interface to create an integrated system. PerMMA offers greater independence to individuals with mobility and upper extremity impairments by allowing them to perform tasks in both their home and community that would otherwise require the assistance of others. No devices of this nature currently exist. For many people with disabilities, essential tasks such as dressing, shopping, and food preparation require the assistance of an attendant. PerMMA addresses these needs, thus allowing the user to be more independent, and reducing or eliminating the need for caregiver assistance.
When end-users were consulted they reported that they wanted “zero-gap” in mobility and manipulation between them and an unimpaired person. The QoLT team leverages their strengths in robotics and mobility aids to overcome the shortcomings and unmet needs of a device that provides coordinated mobility and manipulation. Some of the new functionalities that PerMMA provides are:
- to detect and/or predict user intent,
- to provide coordinated movement between a power base and multiple manipulators,
- to include natural and intuitive user interfaces and control modes, and
- to incorporate real-world navigation and docking assistance.
In order to make interaction easier, QoLT researchers used a wide range of natural and intuitive interfaces that reduce the time to complete tasks and produce fluid human-like motions. The team is working on extending mobility range to overcome mobility barriers intransigent to traditional approaches. Lastly, the ultimate goal is in supporting independence so that people can go out and do things without an attendant.
PerMMA is not a just wheelchair with "added intelligence" and arms; as noted previously, it is a mobile robotic manipulator with a seat for a person. Though the researchers may develop custom hardware in the future, they chose to start the prototype development by using commercially available subsystems. They selected Permobil C500 with multiple seat functions as the mobile platform, as it is equipped to handle the seating needs of users and its seat functions can be instrumented to act as usable degrees of freedom in a robotic system. As an arm, they selected ARM (formerly MANUS) manipulators, which are designed specifically for use on power wheelchairs because of their built-in safety features and modest power requirements. The team designed and fabricated a custom controller to handle the input/output needs, high computational power, and programming flexibility that are required for PerMMA.
A recent addition to the PerMMA team is Elaine Houston. At the end of May 2010, Elaine received her biomedical engineering degree from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Terre Haute, Indiana. Today she is pursuing her desire to do assistive technology graduate work at the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology. Like most college graduates, Elaine says she's excited to truly live on her own—but her newfound sense of freedom and independence will likely be more profound than the typical graduate's, as she uses her knowledge to help others with disabilities find freedom too. Read her unique story here
Illustration: Dr. Rory Cooper and PerMMA. –Popular Science.
Popular Science, August 2010, Volume 277, #2, pages 46-51
Quality of Life Technology Center -- Personal Mobility and Manipulation Appliance (PerMMA)
Bio: Dr. Rory Cooper
Bio: Dr. Dan Ding