October 10, 2017 | Updated: November 11, 2019
Juan Aceros, IEEE Member, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering, College of Computing, Engineering & Construction at the University of North Florida
IEEE Transmitter: What is your area of robotics expertise?
Aceros: We work on adaptive systems for pediatric rehabilitation.
IEEE Transmitter: Why is the area of robotics with which you are involved important? How is it benefitting society today, and how will it benefit society in the future?
Aceros: The area of pediatric rehabilitation is a critical and underdeveloped scientific area. The benefits to society are directly linked to the improvement in the quality of life of children with disabilities. The work we are doing aims to provide a paradigm change in current clinical intervention guidelines and improve future independent functional prognosis, medical management, educational cost, academic success and overall quality of life for children with motor impairments. Furthermore, demonstrating the benefits of our technology during the critical periods of neural development could improve management of therapies, patient coverage and empower clinicians with objective information that leads to optimal treatments by eliminating possible detrimental effects such as irreversible cognitive and motor impairments.
IEEE Transmitter: What are the functions performed by the robots you are working with? Why is this special?
Aceros: These robots engage children in mobility-based treatments. They are based on easy to use, low cost, child and family friendly modified power ride-on toys that effectively engage children in the exploration of their environment. This is important because children with developmental motor disabilities often lack the opportunity to perform these independent explorations of their environment and consequently face developmental delays that negatively impact their overall health and well-being leading to depression, social isolation and lower quality of life.
IEEE Transmitter: What challenges did you face in teaching your robot to interact with humans?
Aceros: We are not tackling some of the harder problems of robotics, such as advanced mathematical methods for artificial intelligence, but rather we work at the interface of human and machine. Our challenges are related to humans and how they engaged with our technology. We want our humans to learn from interactions with our system and not the other way around.
IEEE Transmitter: We understand robots are starting to learn on their own. How is technology enabling robots to learn on their own?
Aceros: This is the next step in evolution for our devices. Automatic, wireless, short or long range, bi-directional data transmission will allow therapists to actively engage patients from remote locations.
IEEE Transmitter: How do you envision robots learning in the next 5-10 years?
Aceros: In the medical device industry, this will have a substantial impact. I envision unbiased monitoring of rehabilitation therapies from remote locations using these robotic assistive devices to assess and prevent some of the most prevalent diseases among the motion impaired population, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, while providing clinicians with digitally supported health information and all the potential benefits associated with their electronic health records (EHR).