The National Science Foundation (NSF) has begun taking more interest in exoskeleton technology with four different programs considering grant applications for related research. Below is a continuation of our coverage of the 2020 Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) ErgoX Symposium Exoskeleton track. Special thanks to HFES for inviting the Exoskeleton Report to participate and cover the event!
Keynote: The National Science Foundation – Research Support for Research Related to Exoskeletons and Their Use – Dr. Bob Scheidt, National Science Foundation
NSF supports fundamental research, encourages transformative research, and research that is integrated with education. In 2019 the NSF received and evaluated 48,000 proposals and funded about 12,000 of them. The NSF has been funding exoskeleton research over the past few years, but this is the first time a representative of the organization has been a keynote speaker at an exoskeleton event (to the best of our knowledge). Dr. Scheidt used his presentation to list four applicable exoskeleton programs, followed by how the grant process works.
Foundational Research and Robotics (FRR)
The FRR program was announced in Feb 2020. This core program has begun accepting unsolicited proposals since last August. The proposals must include an essential robot (or wearable robot as would be the case here) that gains new or improved capabilities. It goes without saying that the proposals have the responsibility to make a convincing case for their budget.
Mind Machine and Motor Nexus M3X
The goal for M3X is to understand the dynamics of AI, physical channels, and human minds, such as a medical exoskeleton. M3X projects need to take a bidirectional approach to how the human adapts to the machine, and the machine adapts to the human user.
Technical note: On the surface, it may appear that the AI is meant to take control of the exoskeleton. This couldn’t be further from reality. The thought process is that even with the best software programming a powered exoskeleton can have a generic reaction and interpretation of the user’s intent. The application of AI may lead to a new solution. A tailor-made exoskeleton-user interface that is unique to each user and never stops adapting. The exoskeleton thus will be better able to predict the intent of the user, making for a more efficient and safer wearable device. The AI could lead to a superior human-machine interface as opposed to taking control of the wearable robot.
Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier (FW-HTF) Program
FW-HTF asks how are the constantly evolving technologies shaping the lives of workers and societies. Research themes include human-technology partnerships, augmenting human performance, and fostering lifelong learning. Workers are essential for our future, yet technological advances rarely consider the impact on them in advance, says Dr. Bob Scheidt. FW-HTF would welcome exoskeleton worker interaction projects. Total funding for FY2020 was ~$30M.
Leading Engineering for America’s Prosperity Health and Infrastructure (LEAP HI)
This program supports larger projects that have a clear path towards societal impact. One difference is that project goals should not be achievable by a series of small short-term projects.
During the event, all participants were encouraged to submit questions. The time allotted and the open chat system really contributed to an open discussion. Normally at conferences, there would be no more than a handful of minutes to shout questions across the room, but the virtual format here provided a clear advantage.
In conclusion, proposed projects should be centered around foundational robotics and human-machine interactions to be considered for an NSF grant, which stands in contrast to NIH and NIOSH based grants. Dr. Scheidt also suggested for interested parties to view https://www.nsf.gov/eng/rehab.jsp for Rehabilitation Research at NSF. Note an excellent audience question: small businesses can’t apply to the FW-HTF Program without an academic component.
The above was just one presentation from the excellent HFES ErgoX 2020. For more coverage spy on our related articles here or jump directly to ErgoX Symposium 2020 Exoskeleton Track Day One Recap (Oct 14, 2020). The next ErgoX, likely in 2021, is still in the planning phases. Stay up to date on exoskeleton events by utilizing our events calendar.