Orlando, Fla. -- While enabling better robots, biorobotics is also encouraging engineers to become neuroscientists, an expert told the IEEE's International Conference on Robotics and Automation.
"Biorobotics offers a new paradigm for engineers," said keynote speaker Paolo Dario. "The engineer no longer just cooperates with neuroscientists but has become a scientist too, in order to discover basic biological principles" that can be applied to design work.
Dario directs the Advanced Robotics Technology and Systems (ARTS) Laboratory and the Microfabrication Technologies (MiTech) Laboratory and is coordinator at the Center for Research in Microengineering. All three are based at the Scuola Superiore Sant' Anna (Pisa, Italy).
Dario's team is validating these new principles, which integrate "bio-inspired" control and learning strategies with human/robot interfaces and mechanisms. The researchers are also pursuing biomechatronics, or prosthetics; technical aids for physical rehabilitation; and humanoid robots for assisting the elderly. "Bio-inspired models that integrate robotics and neuroscience are easier to engineer, and they offer better performance," Dario said.
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 the interaction between them.
The engineer-scientist first studies a biological system and formulates hypotheses 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.