Rory Cooper, Ph.D.

AIMBE College of Fellows Class of 1998
For outstanding contributions to improving quality and increasing innovation in wheelchair design, and for leadership in rehabilitation engineering.

This Pitt-developed wheelchair can roll in the water

Via TRIB Live | May 1, 2017

A new wheelchair developed by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh takes people where other powered wheelchairs fear to tread: the water.

Rory Cooper and his team at Pitt’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories have developed an air-powered wheelchair and scooter.

“There’s no electronics at all,” Cooper said. “It’s completely submersible.”

That means veterans could wade into the water to go fishing or kids could roll right into the shallow end at the Dormont pool, Cooper said.

And at Morgan’s Wonderland, a theme park in San Antonio, Texas, designed specially for people with disabilities, guests can escape the 100-plus-degree summer heat in its new waterpark opening in June.

“There’s water coming at you from every which angle,” said Ron Rander, general manager of Morgan’s Wonderland, which hopes to open its waterpark in June. “That’s why we need the pneumatic chair.”

Cooper, the director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories, a collaboration between Pitt, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and UPMC, said he and his team have worked on the air-powered chair, the PneuChair, for about three years. Cooper wanted to design a powered wheelchair without the batteries. The PneuChair’s other benefits over traditional battery-operated chairs — it can get wet; it’s lighter; it recharges faster; it’s easier to maintain — were bonuses.

About 1.7 million people use a wheelchair or scooter, according to the University of California Disability Statistics Center. Both Rander and Cooper said early interest in a non-electric, air-powered model has been high.

“I’ve been amazed at the response we’ve gotten. People, they just want their kids to be able to run through sprinklers,” Cooper said. “Veterans who say they just want to be able to wade in the water to go trout fishing… Continue reading…


University Of Pittsburgh Group Invents Wheelchair Powered By Compressed Air

Via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | April 8, 2017

Years ago in Germany, Rory Cooper learned from the director of a production, engineering and automation institute about motors powered by compressed air. It got him thinking.

Most wheelchairs are heavy, run on batteries with lots of electronics involved. They do work well — but only if they stay dry.

“It dawned on me that the real demand would be for use at pools, beaches and water parks,” said Mr. Cooper, director of the University of Pittsburgh Human Engineering Research Laboratories in East Liberty. “Wheelchairs don’t work in wet conditions, with their batteries and electronics.”

After about three years of design and development, HERL’s PneuChair wheelchair, fully waterproof and powered by a compressed-air-powered motor, made its debut Friday at Morgan’s Wonderland, a 25-acre theme park in San Antonio.

The park, built to be fully accessible to all people with disabilities, now has 10 PneuChairs for use at its Morgan’s Inspiration Island, a $16 million splash park scheduled to open this spring.

Early in the wheelchair project, park officials actually contacted Mr. Cooper, who holds a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering, about creating a waterproof wheelchair. Gordon Hartman is founder of the Gordon Hartman Family Foundation, which developed and now operates the park, through its nonprofit organization, Sports Outdoor And Recreation. SOAR has partnered with HERL to get the PneuChair into mass production and distributed through a licensing agreement. Mr. Cooper said he hopes production can begin before the end of the year.


Winners announced in the Blackwood Design Awards 2016

Via Blackwood | January 23, 2017

After months of planning and preparation, last Friday marked the ‘Dragon’s Den’ style finale of the Blackwood Design Awards 2016. We assembled a panel of judges from various sectors of expertise and Skyped our finalists from all over the world including Japan and the USA.

The winner of the ‘Best New Concept’ was the MeBot created by Dr Rory Cooper based in Pittsburgh, USA.

This highly functional wheelchair can tackle steps, pavement edges and rough terrain. It caught the attention of the judges in part because it was very clear that it was designed by wheelchair users, for wheelchair users and with very full inclusion from the outset.

Massive congratulations to both our winners. Going forward we will be supporting both entries as much as possible to help them thrive and expand their reach in helping people live their lives to the full. You can read the Dundee Courier’s coverage of the final here.


Military Medicine – Beyond the Battlefield

Via PBS | October 12, 2016

Military Medicine: Beyond the Battlefield, hosted and reported by ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff, covers military medical advances and technology from the battlefield to the return home.

The personal stories of physicians, scientists, active duty troops, veterans, and military families come together in this one hour documentary to show how these advances are both saving and changing the lives of America’s service members.

Here Director Rory Cooper and graduate student research Andrew Sundaram show off the Mobility Enhancement Robotic Wheelchair (MEBot), a new product designed to climb curbs and navigate uneven terrain.


University Creates $1 Million Innovation Fund

Via Pitt Chronicle | May 16, 2016

The University of Pittsburgh has dedicated $1 million in gap funding over the next two years to assist Pitt innovators who want to commercialize their research discoveries.

Coordinated through the University’s Innovation Institute, the Chancellor’s Innovation Commercialization Funds will assist faculty and students with Pitt discoveries in several ways: identifying unmet needs in the market for their innovations; developing prototypes; identifying potential commercial partners; or forming a new enterprise.

Manual Wheelchair Virtual Seating Coach

Innovators: Rory Cooper, the FISA/Paralyzed Veterans of America Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor in Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences; and S. Andrea Sundaram, a graduate student in the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL), Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

Description: Pressure sores result from individuals sitting in wheelchairs and not performing frequent-enough weight shifts due to reduced or absent nerve sensation. The resulting ulcers require expensive treatment and are a significant health concern with negative effects on quality of life. While the HERL team previously developed a tool to assist those in motorized wheelchairs, until now a solution for those in manual wheelchairs was not available.


Mobile Master

Via Pitt Magazine | September 30, 2015

The events of one summer afternoon on a street in Germany set Rory Cooper on course to transform what’s possible for those with disabilities. As usual, he’s racing ahead, on the frontier of rehabilitation science.

Rory Cooper is a man in constant motion. On a recent morning, he moved through the hallways of his laboratories, scrolling through his Blackberry while greeting passerby on his way to monitor research projects and mentor students. But these aren’t your typical laboratories. Cooper’s “office” is the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL), located in an entrepreneurial sector of Pittsburgh’s Bakery Square development.


See How Robotics Is Changing What It Means to Be Disabled

Via TIME | July 28, 2015

At the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) in Pittsburgh, Pa., veterans, engineers, doctors and researchers are working together to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Since 1994, Dr. Rory Cooper and his team have been solving everyday problems of people with disabilities and inventing new technologies to change the way people with disabilities interact with and experience the world around them


Rory Cooper Receives Robotics Industry’s Highest Award

Via Pitt Chronicle | June 17, 2014

University of Pittsburgh Distinguished Professor Rory Cooper has been awarded the Engelberger Robotics Award, the robotics industry’s highest honor.

Cooper, FISA/Paralyzed Veterans of America Endowed Chair and Distinguished Professor within Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, received the 2014 Engelberger Award for Application of robotic technology on June 2 in Munich, Germany, during a ceremony held in conjunction with the 45th International Symposium on Robotics and the 8th German Conference on Robotics.

“Receiving this award is a tremendous honor and humbling experience,” Cooper said. “I am very pleased to have assistive- and personal-robotic applications recognized. People with disabilities and older adults could make great gains in independence and self-direction through robotics.”

The Engelberger Awards are given to individuals for excellence in technology development, application, education, and leadership in the robotics industry. Each winner receives a $5,000 honorarium and commemorative medallion with the inscription, “Contributing to the advancement of the science of robotics in the service of mankind.”

The awards are named after Joseph F. Engelberger, who is considered the father of the modern robotics industry. He was the founder and president of Unimation, Inc., the world’s first industrial robot manufacturer.

Cooper holds secondary appointments at Pitt as a professor in the Departments of Orthopaedic Surgery and of Mechanical Engineering and Bioengineering. He is also a professor in the Robotics Institute, School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University.


Rory Cooper Wins Engelberger Award

Via The Business Journals | May 29, 2014

Rory Cooper, University of Pittsburgh professor and founder of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories, is among three people who will receive the Engelberger Robotics Award June 2 in Germany.

Cooper will receive the Engelberger Award for Application. The ceremony will be held with the joint 45 th International Symposium on Robotics and 8 th German Conference on Robotics in Munich.

The awards are named after the “father of robotics,” Joseph Engelberger, and are presented annually by the Robotic Industries Association, a trade group.