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NEI Funds Development of Co-Robot to Help Visually Impaired Grasp Objects

December 3, 2015

As part of the National Robotics Initiative (NRI), the National Institutes of Health announced that it will fund the development of three innovative co-robots—robots that work cooperatively with people. One of these will be a hand-worn device to help visually impaired people identify and grasp objects.

Cang Ye, Ph.D., of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, leads the project team. Their goal is to create a hand-worn assistive device that uses computer vision to identify a target object in the user’s environment, determine misalignment between the user’s hand and the object, and then convey the hand motion needed to grasp the object. For people who are visually impaired, the device is expected to enhance their ability to move around independently in two major ways. If successful, it will make it easier to identify light-weight obstacles and move them out of the way. It also will assist in identifying and manipulating objects like door handles.

This project is funded by NEI grant EY026275. Funding for all three NIH projects will total approximately $2.2 million over the next five years, subject to the availability of funds.


The other two co-robot projects include a smart-walker to increase mobility for older people, and a social-robot companion for kids. For more on those projects and the NRI, read this press release from NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering: “NIH funds development of robots to improve health, quality of life.”

NEI leads the federal government’s research on the visual system and eye diseases. NEI supports basic and clinical science programs to develop sight-saving treatments and address special needs of people with vision loss. For more information, visit


Joe Balintfy


Margot Kern