Rory Cooper, a biomedical engineer, is a man in constant motion. He propels through the hallways of his workplace in a state-of-the-art wheelchair he designed. But this isn’t your typical office. Cooper is director of Pitt’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL), located in an entrepreneurial sector of Pittsburgh’s Bakery Square.
As the Pitt professor rolls along, scrolling through his Blackberry, he passes a series of lab spaces, each designed to help those who are challenged by activities of daily life. There’s a “smart” kitchen that uses wireless remote-controlled appliances and faucets. There are digital “cueing” devices to aid those who are in wheelchairs or have health issues such as dementia. There’s a KitchenBot robotic arm that maneuvers to help with opening cupboards, accessing food, cooking, and cleanup. Other labs engage in virtual reality projects, biomechanics, and brain-machine interfaces.