Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) have been awarded a 5-year, $15 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to establish an engineering research center that will develop technologies to help older adults and people with disabilities live independently and productively.

Researchers at the new Quality of Life Technology Engineering Research Center (QoLT ERC) will create a scientific and engineering knowledge base enabling the development of intelligent systems that co-exist and work with people, particularly those with impairments. These intelligent systems could include devices that a person carries or wears, a mobile system that a person rides or that accompanies a person, or an environment equipped with instruments to aid people. These devices and systems will be able to monitor the health and activity levels of people living alone, prompt failing memories, or control household appliances. Technology could be developed that will enable people to continue to drive safely as they age. The center will also look to improve existing assistive technologies, like wheelchairs, by adding capabilities that provide navigational and cognitive assistance, and will develop technologies for the workplace that increase the employability of people with disabilities.

Research at the center will build upon recent advances in intelligent system technologies, including machine perception, robotics, learning, communication, and miniaturization, which until now have been used primarily in industrial, military, or entertainment settings. The new center will be jointly directed by Takeo Kanade, the UA and Helen Whitaker University professor of computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon; and Rory Cooper, distinguished professor and FISA/PVA chair of rehabilitation science and technology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

“The purpose of our new center is to foster independence and self-determination among older adults and people with disabilities,” Kanade says. “If the technology we develop at the QoLT ERC can delay the need to send people from their homes to assisted-living or nursing facilities by even one month, we can save our nation $1.2 billion annually. We need to apply the same ingenuity that we’ve used for military, space, and manufacturing applications to improve the human condition.”

[SOURCE: EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS; Carnegie Mellon University, July 2006]