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ICRA 2023



Heike Vallery

Heike Vallery

Professor, Technische Universiteit Delft

Presentation - Subtractive design of robotics to empower individuals with motor impairments

When applying robotics with the aim to empower motor-impaired individuals, often highly complex technology results, which hinders implementation in daily life. This talk outlines how implicit assumptions and long-standing design paradigms can lead to unnecessary complexity, and how “subtractive design” can help find simpler solutions more readily. For example, our surprising experimental results with robotic body-weight support systems challenge assumptions on what humans need or prefer in order to walk or balance better. This demonstrates the importance of engaging with users at an early stage and of distilling key requirements. When looking for technical solutions, embracing underactuation and integrating passive mechanics can further help prevent complexity and achieve simple, effective, and commercially viable solutions within a short timeframe. The suggested design principles will be derived and illustrated using a range of examples, from body weight support systems to wearable technology for fall injury prevention. The talk will also show some lessons learned from unsuccessful attempts.


In 2004, Heike Vallery graduated with honors from RWTH Aachen University with a Dipl.-Ing. degree in Mechanical Engineering. Since then, she has been working on robot-assisted rehabilitation and prosthetic legs, in close collaboration with clinicians and partners from industry. In 2009, she earned her Dr.-Ing. from the Technische Universität München and then continued her academic career at ETH Zürich, Khalifa University and TU Delft. Today, she is a full professor at RWTH Aachen and TU Delft, and also holds an honorary professorship at Erasmus MC in Rotterdam. Heike Vallery received numerous fellowships and awards, such as the 1st prize of the euRobotics Technology Transfer Award 2014, and recently an Alexander-von-Humboldt professorship to join RWTH Aachen. Her current research focuses on developing minimalistic and unconventional concepts to support human gait and balance.