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Explorations in Science and Technology

Robotics Help Make Bodies Whole


Imagine a robotic arm controlled by people’s brain impulses or a bicycle built for a person with only one leg. Pitt researchers are turning these tech dreams and others into reality.

At Pitt’s Motorlab, neurobiology professor Andrew Schwartz and Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Chair Michael Boninger created brain-computer interfaces for robotic arms they think are ready for use. They have recruited people with quadriplegia from spinal cord injuries for their trial.

Professor Rory Cooper’s robotic research is personal. As a 20-year-old U.S. Army officer, Cooper was hit by a truck and he’s been in a wheelchair ever since. At Pitt’s Human Engineering Research Laboratory (HERL), Cooper helped to develop the Personal Mobility and Manipulation Appliance (PerMMA), which equipped a wheelchair with robotic arms.

Cooper leads Pitt’s Rehabilitation Science and Technology (RST) program, where students work alongside designers, engineers, and clinical professionals to create, test, and improve assistive technology for people with disabilities. Students also can take courses in rehabilitation counseling, enabling them to help patients better understand their disabilities, how to live with them, and how to overcome them.

Part of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, RST includes HERL; the Quality of Life Technology Center, which integrates information technologies with biomedical innovations to help patients affecting by aging or disabilities; and other centers.