Wednesday, May 17, 2006

"ROBOTICS: Biorobotics challenges engineers"

While enabling better robots, biorobotics are also encouraging engineers to become neuroscientists, an expert told the IEEE's International Conference on Robotics and Automation. Keynote speaker Paolo Dario's team is validating new principles which integrate "bio-inspired" control and learning strategies with human/robot interfaces and mechanisms. They are also pursuing biomechatronics, or prosthetics, technical aids for physical rehabilitation and humanoid robots for assisting the elderly. For humanoid robotics applications, the new paradigm includes three computer models running simultaneously: a model of the world, a model of the human and a model of their interaction. The engineer/scientist first studies biological systems and formulates hypothesizes for how it succeeds. The resulting robot mimics the hypothesized procedures. Once the robot is debugged, biological systems are reevaluated to determine where a model went wrong and a new hypothesis is developed for correcting errors. Finally, the robot is rebuilt. Dario predicted that robotic surgery would benefit from biorobotic advances. Robo-surgery is designed to "steady the hand" of surgeons, and has progressed to delicate neurological procedures that are nearly impossible to perform without robotic assistance.
Biorobotics are also enabling new procedures that would be impossible to perform manually.