Date Posted: 4/10/2024

For people with mobility limitations, the tasks of daily living – like getting out of bed or eating – can be impossible without help. Tapomayukh “Tapo” Bhattacharjee, assistant professor of computer science in the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, believes assistive robotics have the potential to better the lives of people who have mobility limitations and relieve some of the caregivers’ workload. 

The Toyota Research Institute (TRI) shares this vision and has awarded Bhattacharjee with its Young Faculty Researcher Award, which includes $627,000 in funding. Bhattacharjee plans to develop a robotic assistance system that can transfer a person from a bed to a wheelchair. 

“While most of the current focus on assistive robotics is centered on tasks such as feeding, dressing, and bed-bathing, transferring is an activity of daily living that needs assistance by a wide variety of individuals with disabilities,” Bhattacharjee said. “This funding will enable me to dive deeper into this critical need and explore robot-assisted solutions.”

A leader in developing assistive robotics for those with mobility limitations, Bhattacharjee and members of Cornell’s EmPRISE lab, which he directs, have recently published several papers on robot-assisted feeding, among other topics. In this project, called “Leveraging Assistive Devices and Mobile Manipulation to Enable Care Receivers’ Sense of Agency in a Transfer Activity of Daily Living,” Bhattacharjee will explore body transferring using a Kinova Gen3 robot arm, an automated wheelchair, and an assistive Hoyer sling. It’s a challenge he characterizes as high-risk, high-reward. Robotic transferring hasn’t been widely explored, mainly because current home robots aren’t powerful and robust enough to safely and effectively move a person, he said.

Bhattacharjee and his team intend to develop and test the system with real users, both in the lab and in real-world settings.

“I am super excited by this opportunity because I get to work with like-minded people at TRI who are excited by similar problems of physical human-robot interaction towards robotic assistance as I am,” he said. “This should be a lot of fun.”

With a mission to create new tools and capabilities to improve the human condition, TRI is focused on four research areas: energy and materials; human-centered artificial intelligence (AI); human interactive driving, and robotics. TRI currently partners with several academic institutions to create technologies to improve the quality of life for individuals and society and further discovery in automated driving, robotics, and machine-assisted cognition.

By Louis DiPietro, a writer for the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science.