Entrepreneurial Research Initiative: Augmented Human Assistance (AHA)

Coaching and Monitoring Rehabilitation Exercises

AHA team2 

More than 30 young and senior researchers from both sides of the Atlantic, Portugal and United States (Pittsburgh), are involved on the Entrepreneurial Research Initiative (ERI) that seeks to build an intelligent robotic coach to assist people in exercise programs for active aging and rehabilitation.

Alex Bernardino    /uploadedImages/people/faculty-researchers/Daniel Siewiorek.gif
Led by Alexandre Bernardino, from Instituto Superior Técnico (IST), Asim Smailagic, and Daniel P. Siewiorek, both from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), the ERI titled “Augmented Human Assistance” (AHA) involves two dual degree Ph.D. students: João Guilherme Antunes Martins (who is on his 2nd year) and Min Hun Lee (who is on his 1st year).  Both doctoral students at the end of their studies will receive a diploma from IST and CMU.

With approximately one year and a half of activity, the research team has published 10 papers, has been working closely with its partner companies and advisory board, and has already collected exercise data from end users that tested its technology. We have talked with the principal investigators of this initiative, which has a timeframe of four year of research work. The ERI AHA is carried out in the auspices of the CMU Portugal Program, funded by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT).

CMU Portugal Program: How do you comment on this first year of activity of the ERI? 

Augmented Human Assistance Principal Investigators (AHA PIs): The first year was very active and exciting. We had many meetings and discussions with great enthusiasm, that led to a common view of the project goals. This was the first time some of the partners worked together, so meetings and discussions also led to mutual learning and discovery. Since our team is highly complementary and multi-disciplinary, all partners certainly learned a lot from each other and got their complementariness strengthened. We are all very motivated and committed to the project and driven to put together all the different pieces of work, and give life to our exciting goal: an intelligent robotic coach to assist people in exercise programs for active aging and rehabilitation purposes.


“We have been working with end-user groups (…) to collect exercise data to evaluate and validate the developed methods, and in a senior sports facility (…) where we tested a prototype with 17 end users.” AHA PIs

CMU Portugal Program: What outcomes can be communicated so far? 

AHA PIs: We have already several publications in conferences and journals, reporting the scientific components of the project. We got also some appearances in the press, where some robotic demonstrations were already presented. We had contact with the research community in talks in conferences and workshops, including a booth at a conference for distributing information about the project. We have been working with end-user groups at Faculdade de Motricidade Humana (FMH) to collect exercise data to evaluate and validate the developed methods, and in a senior sports facility in Madeira, where we tested a prototype with 17 end users.

CMU Portugal Program: This ERI has an Advisory Board, what has been its role? 

AHA PIs: Yes. We have an advisory board composed by members of academia, technological companies, health clinics and end users. We had our first meeting in May 2015 where the advisors had the first contact with the project and started to form an idea of the objectives and the way the project is expected to progress during the years. The advisors also presented their works so we could understand each other more effectively. At the end of the meeting, they provided suggestions for improvements in the project activities and overall directions. These meetings will be held every year, and we hope to improve continuously from the benefits of this collaboration.

CMU Portugal Program: What has been the role of the partner companies involved so far? 

AHA PIs: Partner companies have been very active in the project promotion, and are playing an extremely helpful role in the specification of the requirements according to their experience in market trends and product constraints. They have been providing hardware and software platforms for the development of prototypes. In this first phase of the project, PLUX provided different types of sensors that will allow to study the patients electrophysiological activities, and promoted internal workshops to explain the functionalities and modes of utilization of such devices.  This is also very useful for the company to improve its products.

CMU Portugal Program: What are the major activities scheduled for the next year? 

AHA PIs: The project milestones set for the second year are related to the virtual coaching technology and augmented reality games. Further, it will be a period when most of technical integration activities among partners and services will take place. We are aiming at a system able to motivate, engage and assess the physical fitness of the users using more interactive and immersive experiences. This requires a complex technical infrastructure and system architecture that is being put in place. In parallel we will keep improving the robotic platforms in preparation for the third year milestone: the robot coach.

“Companies are actively in the project, driving technological innovation with a high potential in the consumer market.” – AHA PIs

CMU Portugal Program: Now that a year has passed, what do you feel that are the main differences between an ERI and other research projects? 

AHA PIs: There is certainly a bigger emphasis in close to market technologies and we must be permanently looking for product opportunities that companies can exploit. So part of the effort must be put on driving technologies up in the Technological Readiness Level looking for exploitation opportunities. Because of this, companies are actively in the project, driving technological innovation with a high potential in the consumer market. Apart from this, things are not much different, and there is always space to do fundamental research and drive ideas for longer-term applications.

December 2015

Entrepreneurial Research Initiatives (ERIs) are projects in science, engineering, management and policy that link both fundamental and applied research to technological innovation and economic development. This bridging is pursued by explicitly focusing on important real world problems entailing significant scientific challenges - more