Science Foundation Awards to Further Work into Rehabilitative Robotics, Online Tools at Northwestern University

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by Patricia Silva, PhD |

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rehabilitation and robotics

Two scientists at Northwestern University, Anne Marie Piper and Brenna Argall, recently received the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The work of Dr. Argall, in particular, might be relevant for people with disabilities caused by diseases such as multiple sclerosis or brain trauma resulting from accidents or strokes.

The CAREER Award is the NSF’s most prestigious award in support of the early careers of outstanding teacher-scholars, who effectively integrate research and education within the context of their work.


Dr. Anne Marie Piper

Dr. Piper is an assistant professor in Northwestern’s School of Communication and the director of Northwestern’s Inclusive Technology Lab. She is investigating new technologies to help older adults with disabilities. Her five-year, $500,000 award will be used to help develop new software to help people stay active and engaged online.


Dr. Brenna Argall

Dr. Argall is an assistant professor of Rehabilitation Robotics at Northwestern University, jointly affiliated with the Departments of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science and Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. She is also a research scientist at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, one of the nation’s premier rehabilitation hospitals.

Her five-year $525,000 award will be used to advance the development of robotics devices to help people with sensory, motor, or cognitive impairments.

It is a paradox that the more severe a person’s motor impairment, “the harder it is for them to operate the very machines meant to enhance their quality of life,” Dr. Argall said in a university press release.

The primary aim of Dr. Argall’s work at the Assistive & Rehabilitation Robotics Laboratory is to design algorithms that incorporate the autonomy and intelligence of robotics into rehabilitative devices — turning assistive machines into a kind of robot, so as to shift some of the control burden from the user to the machines and to make them more adaptive to the needs of a patient over time.

Such robotic technology may help patients suffering with disabilities resulting from multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), traumatic brain injuries, strokes, or Parkinson’s disease.

“The work is poised to transform rehabilitation science by treating motor impairments as an advantage rather than a constraint,” Dr. Argall concluded.

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