Northwestern's Todd Murphey Engineers
Physical Therapy Robots
April 11, 2017
research aiming to make it easier for humans to work directly with a
robotic partner in applications such as physical therapy
Northwestern University mechanical engineering professor Todd Murphey
and his team are engineering robots that one might say could make
robotic assistance as seamless as "humanly" possible. With support from
the National Science Foundation (NSF), the team is using novel
algorithmic tools, such as a drawing robot, to develop the algorithms,
or rules of behavior, that would greatly enhance a robot's ability to
adapt to human unpredictability.
Murphey points out that in order for robots to help people, they have to
have at least a basic understanding of the types of tasks people can do.
Some tasks, like lifting and placing an object, are close to the types
of tasks that robots already do. Other tasks, like drawing, are harder
for robots, partly because there are so many ways to get the same image.
As Murphey explains: "And so, drawing is a type of task that's maybe not
the same as that sort of precision manufacturing task that we've seen
robots do historically."
sees many possibilities for robots that work alongside humans in
everyday tasks, but one application his lab is focused on currently is
physical therapy. The goal is to develop robots that can help patients
not only move through the paces of their physical therapy without
hurting themselves but allow them to complete movement tasks by creating
mechanical environments to make this feasible. "Algorithms developed
here will eventually run on physical therapy robots designed to help
people with tasks like balance and feeding themselves," says Murphey.
His collaborator, Julius P. Dewald, runs the Northwestern School of
Medicine's Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences Department.
Dewald has pioneered the use of robotics in stroke rehabilitation and
sees great promise in Murphey's new approaches.