Researcher with SMA Seeks Participants for Survey on Attitudes Toward Robotic Devices for Severely Disabled

Researcher with SMA Seeks Participants for Survey on Attitudes Toward Robotic Devices for Severely Disabled

Kavita Krishnaswamy, a PhD candidate in Computer Science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), has launched an online survey on attitudes toward robotic aids and how they may improve the quality of life for those with physical disabilities, their family members and caregivers, and is inviting participation. Data derived from the survey will help advance her project of designing prototype assistive robotics devices.

krishnaswamyKAs a professional researcher with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), an autosomal recessive genetic disorder that affects control of muscle movement, Ms. Krishnaswamy has a keen personal interest in helping people with SMA and their loved ones cope with and work around the challenges associated with the disease. Autonomy, she believes, is the soul of independent daily living and can be achieved through technological advancement.

SMA is one of the most common genetic disorders, occurring in 1 in every 6,000 to 10,000 live births. The disease presents with variable degrees of severity as progressive muscle weakness that impairs respiration and mobility. SMA patients can live a normal lifespan, but suffer increased weakness in the proximal muscles of the extremities, resulting in mobility inhibitions.

Persons with SMA can excel in chosen career fields, enjoy travel and recreation, and build relationships as well as anyone. However, lifestyle and support modifications may be necessary to accommodate physical limitations. For example, a car or van can be fitted with special equipment allowing an adult with SMA to drive.

Current treatment options for SMA patients are limited, and there is a high unmet need for new therapeutic and assistive options, both to address coping with symptoms and to slow disease progression.

OatesTWorking with her mentor, UMBC assistant professor in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering Dr. Tim Oates, Ms. Krishnaswamy is both a Ford Foundation Predoctoral and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. She has also worked at the National Science Foundation’s Engineering Research Center–Quality of Life Technology Center (QoLT) in Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, and with IBM Business consulting services.

Ms. Krishnaswamy’s research at UMBC involves the development of prototype robotic systems designed to support patient transferring, repositioning, and personal care, with a focus on user control interfaces optimized for operation by persons with severe disabilities. “Results from the survey will help me to design a robotic prototype for independence,” she says, adding that her long-term objectives are commercial
development of device designs in addition to enhancing quality of life.

For more information on Ms. Krishnaswamy and her research, visit

Participation in the survey is voluntary and anonymous, and it is open to people 18 years or older.

More information on the survey, including how to participate, is available at

This study has been reviewed and approved by the UMBC Institutional Review Board (IRB), and a representative of that Board, from the Office for Research Protections and Compliance, is available to discuss the review process and the rights of research participants. Inquiries can be made by calling (410) 455-2737 or writing

Ms. Krishnaswamy’s Prototype Designs include:

• Phoenix Lift System
Effective for independent transfers of people with severe physical disabilities, the Phoenix Lift System is composed of an inflatable pillow with supports for the head, lateral trunk, and thighs that scoops and cradles the body at point of contact.

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