University of Notre Dame Feature:
James Schmiedeler, associate professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering at the University of Notre Dame, builds and conducts research with biped robots. He’s quick to point out that physical therapy experience is conspicuously absent from his CV, but as an engineer, he sees parallels. “It’s not too hard as an engineer to look at the human body and think of it as a mechanical system, and if you include the nerves, an electromechanical system,” says Schmiedeler. “Both have ‘actuators’ – we use electric motors on the robots, humans have muscles that are far more efficient than anything we have access to. Both have joints, a rigid structure.”
Schmiedeler is collaborating with researchers at the NeuroRecovery Network at The Ohio State University, including D. Michele Basso, professor and director of research at the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. Basso and Schmiedeler began exchanging ideas of how their work could complement each other’s after attending a conference. It didn’t take long to discover the shared challenges, and potential strategies.
To start, Schmiedeler worked with OSU on research that evaluated young, healthy subjects walking on a treadmill. Those findings directly informed Schmiedeler’s efforts to improve the design and control of the biped robots in his lab. Together, Schmiedeler and OSU are now utilizing these same principles as a way to understand the difficulties humans experience when relearning to walk after incomplete spinal cord injury.
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