Recent advancements of technologies, including computation, robotics, machine learning, communication, and miniaturization technologies, have brought us closer to futuristic visions of compassionate intelligent devices and technology-embedded environments. While many intelligent systems have been developed, most of them are for manufacturing, military, space exploration, and entertainment. Their use for improving health-related quality of life has been treated as a specialized and minor area. Assistive technology, for example, has fallen in the cracks between medical and intelligent-system technologies. The missing element is a basic understanding of how to relate human functions (physiological, physical, and cognitive) to the design of intelligent devices and systems that aid and interact with people.
The QoLT ERC directly addresses this core problem - human-centered, holistic design - by bringing together robotics and information technology engineers with biomedical and rehabilitation engineers, healthcare professionals working in assistive technology research and clinical practice, and experts in aging. The biggest research challenges are dealing with the complex environments encountered in daily life and with the unpredictability of people. The key to our success is studying real people in the real world in order to learn and fully understand their needs before building systems.
Our research focuses on compensating or augmenting all aspects of human functions, including participation in the community. It is a platform for integrative research in which engineers of multiple disciplines, specialists in disabilities and aging and other non-technological experts collaborate to alleviate human impairments.
Real Environments for Real People
We have found that laboratory surrogates do not support natural behavior. It is important to work with real people in their real settings, which is why the QoLT Center is establishing several kinds of testbeds.
Our testbeds are implemented through collaboration with a partnering organization/institution. For example, a residential testbed is being established with a partner that provides residential services to approximately 100 seniors living at home who would ordinarily require institutionalized care. Another is being established with a company who focuses on modular, "smart" homes.