Alexander von Humboldt Professorship for Artificial Intelligence 2023

Heike Vallery

The human gait – which usually looks intuitive and natural – is an extremely complex form of locomotion. When you are walking, you are constantly defying gravity and have to keep fine-tuning your balance. This is precisely why the upright gait is still difficult to replicate technically. Mechanical engineer Heike Vallery studies gait and balance and develops applications in hardware and control technology for the rehabilitation of people with reduced mobility.

  • Nominating University: RWTH Aachen University
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Medical robotics

Internationally, Heike Vallery enjoys the reputation of being an innovator with a particularly keen understanding of the problems in medical rehabilitation. Her approach is to keep applications as simple and minimalistic as possible. For example, she developed a knee prosthesis that stores the energy generated by the movement of sitting down in a spring that helps patients get up again. With neither motors nor batteries, this prosthesis is up to two-thirds lighter than comparable alternatives – making it suitable not only for young, active patients, but also for older people.
Another focus of Vallery's research is on applications to support balance, such as those used in rehabilitating stroke patients. Conventional aids, such as walking frames, crutches or walking sticks, are useful in everyday life, but massively restrict movement because they require the hands. Vallery and her team have developed GyBAR, a kind of backpack that contains a gyroscopic actuator, a rotating disc that can be repositioned by electric motors. GyBAR supports and stabilises the wearer’s balance and equilibrium when walking and prevents falls. At the same time, it keeps the hands free and allows people to move naturally.
Heike Vallery is equally at home in basic and applied research. She can also boast experience in working with medical practitioners in everyday hospital settings as well as in cooperating with industry. As an Alexander von Humboldt Professor, she is invited to create a bridge between mechanical engineering and medicine at RWTH Aachen University where she is supposed to establish a focus on medical robotics in the Institute of Automatic Control.

Brief bio

Heike Vallery has been a professor of human motor augmentation at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands since 2017 and an honorary professor in the Department for Rehabilitation Medicine at the Medical Center of Erasmus University Rotterdam since 2019.  She studied mechanical engineering at RWTH Aachen University and completed her doctorate at TUM Munich. From 2008 to 2011, she conducted postdoctoral research at ETH Zurich, Switzerland, moving to Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi as an assistant professor, and in 2012, to TU Delft. Heike Vallery has received numerous awards and grants, including the euRobotics Technology Transfer Award 2014 and a Vidi Fellowship under the Excellence Programme of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).

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