The Bionic Systems Lab at UCR investigates theoretical and engineering foundations of human-robot systems aimed at restoring and enhancing human mobility and perception, including wearable and assistive robots, active prostheses and orthoses, and neuroprostheses. Our approach includes three synergistic areas: (1) design principles for human-centric and body-mounted robots, (2) mathematical models and control algorithms for human-robot systems, and (3) human-subject studies and data-based modeling of sensorimotor behavior. We envision wearable and assistive robots seamlessly integrating with users to empower people with disabilities, improve precision and personalized medicine, and extend sensory experience and physicality.
Rigid wearable robots limit the natural workspace of limbs, are prone to kinematic incompatibilities, and add substantial inertia, thereby requiring compensatory nonphysiological muscle strategies during movement. In contrast, soft wearable robots are lightweight, compliant, portable, and easy to don/doff, enhancing the potential for daily use and at home rehabilitation. Using a variety of textiles, fabric-based pneumatic soft actuators can be created that are mechanically programmed to bend, twist, and contract when inflated. Antagonistic configurations allow independent stiffness and equilibrium control for active joint assistance. Arranging actuators in series and parallel could form functional robotic apparel for movement assistance and strength augmentation.
Interaction forces, detected by mechanoreceptors in the skin, provide valuable sensory information during locomotion. However, current prostheses have little direct feedback to the user. Our research seeks to design systems that produce haptic feedback for prostheses users: interaction forces sensed at the prosthetic device are relayed to the user through a set of vibrotactile actuators worn around the residual limb. The hope is that the feedback will be incorporated into the user's sensorimotor response. Additional applications include sensory substitution. For example, a white cane equipped with sonar can provide haptic feedback to the blind.