Research at the NERVE Center is focused on the development of test methods and evaluation techniques to measure robot capabilities and human performance.

The NERVE Center's capabilities for conducting research spread across multiple domains and applications. The NERVE center also provides testing services for industry, academia and government.

Person on treadmill with motion capture (left) and person wearing exoskeleton lifting munitions test artifact (right)

Robot-Assisted Movement Biomechanics

The NERVE Center’s Movement Assessment and Performance (MAP) Labs is used to evaluate the movement of humans, robots, and human-robot systems. Lab equipment includes a Motek M-Gait instrumented split-belt treadmill, Vasper aerobic exercise machine, motion capture systems, and force plates.

The NERVE Center works with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center (DEVCOM-SC) to evaluate exoskeletons that assist warfighters by alleviating the burden posed by carrying heavy loads out in the field.

With support from the ASTM Exo Tech Center of Excellence, NERVE develops test methods to evaluate the performance of exoskeletons to assist in mobility activities towards ASTM F48 Committee on Exoskeletons and Exosuits standards.

NERVE collaborates with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the development of test methods. For example, the NIST Position and Load Test Apparatus for Exoskeletons (PoLoTAE) is housed at NERVE to evaluate the performance of upper body exoskeletons.

Selected Publication:

Blake Bequette, Adam Norton, Eric Jones, and Leia Stirling. The Effect of a Powered Lower-Body Exoskeleton on Physical and Cognitive Warfighter Performance. In Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting, Vol. 62, No. 1, pp. 1663-1667, September 2018.

UR5 robot grasping objects

Grasping and Manipulation

The NERVE Center houses a robotic manipulation testbed, named the ARMada, comprised of a variety of robotic arms, end effectors, and sensor systems.

The ARMada is used for developing test methods that evaluate grasping, collaboration, and assembly capabilities used for industrial automation tasks. In collaboration with Oregon State University (OSU), the ARMada testbed will be remotely accessible for outside users to schedule and conduct benchmarking tests via the Remote Experimentation of Manipulation for Online Test and Evaluation (REMOTE) Project.

An open-source ecosystem to support the development and benchmarking of robotic manipulation research is being established by the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Worcester Polytechnic University, and Yale University. To learn more, check out to learn more about the Collaborative Open-source Manipulation and Perception Assets for Robotics Ecosystem (COMPARE) project.

The NERVE Center develops metrics and evaluation methods for industrial robotics to support the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute to measure performance, efficiency, productivity, and versatility. NERVE also works with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to develop test methods to measure elemental grasping and functional assembly performance of robotic manipulators.

The NERVE Center provides YCB Object Sets, a standard set of objects used for benchmarking robotic manipulation, which consists of common objects of varying shapes, sizes, textures, weight, rigidity, and some widely used manipulation tests. NERVE also provides NIST Assembly Task Boards, which are designed to quantify a robot system’s grasping, manipulation, and perception capabilities when used in small parts assembly operations, including competencies such as peg insertion, gear meshing, electrical connector insertions, and nut threading. To apply to purchase either of these benchmarking tools, click the buttons below:

Apply Online For The YCB Object Set

Apply Online For NIST Assembly Task Board #1

Selected Publication:

Joe Falco, Daniel Hemphill, Kenneth Kimble, Elena Messina, Adam Norton, Rafael Ropelato, and Holly Yanco. Benchmarking Protocols for Evaluating Grasp Strength, Grasp Cycle Time, Finger Strength, and Finger Repeatability of Robot End-effectors. IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, Special Issue on Benchmarking Protocols for Robotic Manipulation, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp. 644-651, April 2020.

Omron Adept Lynx robot navigates through a test apparatus for soft partitions.

Industrial Mobile Vehicles

The NERVE Center develops test methods to evaluate the capabilities of automatic, automated, and autonomous unmanned ground vehicles (A-UGVs), which includes both automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). Mobile systems from the ARMada are used for development, such as those from Fetch and Omron.

NERVE develops standard test methods for these types of vehicles in collaboration with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in support of the ASTM F45 Committee on Robotics, Automation, and Autonomous Systems. Test methods include those to evaluate navigation, obstacle avoidance, docking, and localization capabilities.

A malleable test environment is utilized that can evaluate navigation capabilities by adjusting the layout of its boundaries, implementing obstacles (positive, negative, overhead), environmental conditions (e.g., lighting interference), and varying misalignments between the A-UGV’s internal model of the environment and the true physical nature of the environment.

Selected Publication:

Adam Norton, Peter Gavriel, and Holly Yanco. A Standard Test Method for Evaluating Navigation and Obstacle Avoidance Capabilities of AGVs and AMRs. ASTM Journal of Smart and Sustainable Manufacturing Systems, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp. 106-126, November 2019.

Person wearing biometrics sensors (left) and person wearing biometric sensors underneath an EOD suit (right)

Physiological Measurement

The NERVE Center utilizes a suite of biometric sensors for physiological measurement of the physical and cognitive state of various human functions. These sensors can measure the impact of wearable technologies on a person, such as personnel protective equipment (PPE) or exoskeletons.

Sensors include those for measuring muscle activity (EMG), movement (IMU), oxygen consumption (VO2), heart rate, skin and core temperature, and cognitive load (fNIRS).

The NERVE Center works with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center (DEVCOM-SC) to evaluate the physiological effects of wearing bomb suits -- those for protecting individuals during explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) operations -- on a person.

Selected Publication:

Yi-Ning Wu, Adam Norton, Michael R. Zielinski, Pei-Chun Kao, Andrew Stanwicks, Patrick Pang, Charles H. Cring, Brian Flynn, and Holly A. Yanco. Characterizing the Effects of Explosive Ordnance Disposal Operations on the Human Body While Wearing Heavy Personal Protective Equipment. Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomic Society, February 2021.

An unmanned aerial system (UAS) flying outside during daylight.

Unmanned Aerial Systems

The NERVE Center develops test methods for evaluating the capabilities of small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS), including those related to navigation, obstacle avoidance, mapping, communications, and human-robot interaction.

NERVE works with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center (DEVCOM-SC) to develop test methods and benchmark sUAS capabilities in GPS-denied environments for subterranean operations and performance in tight, indoor environments. To learn more about the Development and Execution of Comprehensive and Integrated Subterranean Intelligent Vehicle Evaluation (DECISIVE) project, check out the project webpage here.

Previously, the NERVE Center provided test & evaluation for the DARPA Fast Lightweight Autonomy program, which saw autonomous sUAS operating outdoors, indoors, and transitioning between both types of environments without GPS.

Selected Publications:

Adam Norton, Reza Ahmadzadeh, Kshitij Jerath, Paul Robinette, Jay Weitzen, Thanuka Wickramarathne, Holly Yanco, Minseop Choi, Ryan Donald, Brendan Donoghue, Christian Dumas, Peter Gavriel, Alden Giedraitis, Brendan Hertel, Jack Houle, Nathan Letteri, Edwin Meriaux, Zahra Rezaei, Rakshith Singh, Gregg Willcox, and Naye Yoni. DECISIVE Test Methods Handbook: Test Methods for Evaluating sUAS in Subterranean and Constrained Indoor Environments, Version 1.1. arXiv preprint arXiv:2211.01801, November 2022.

Adam Norton, Peter Gavriel, Brendan Donoghue, and Holly Yanco. Test Methods to Evaluate Mapping Capabilities of Small Unmanned Aerial Systems in Constrained Indoor and Subterranean Environments. In Proceedings of the IEEE International Symposium on Technologies for Homeland Security (HST) 2021, November 2021.

Agility Robotics Digit robot, photo by Dan Saelinger Image by Dan Saelinger

Legged Locomotion

The NERVE Center conducts research on legged robot systems, which include human-worn exoskeletons, humanoids, and quadrupedal robots.

The NERVE Center houses an Agility Robotics Digit, Boston Dynamics Spot, and Rainbow Robotics DRC-HUBO walking robots for conducting research on legged locomotion control. The MAP Labs facilities (see above) are also utilized for robotic walking experiments.

Previously, the NERVE Center housed the NASA Valkyrie humanoid robot in support of the Space Robotics Challenge (SRC) and human-robot interaction methods for humanoid robots used for disaster response tasks at the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) were studied.

Selected Publication:

Adam Norton, Willard Ober, Lisa Baraniecki, Eric McCann, Jean Scholtz, David Shane, Anna Skinner, Robert Watson, and Holly Yanco. Analysis of Human-Robot Interaction at the DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals. International Journal of Robotics Research, Special Issue on Human-Robot Interaction, Volume 36, Issue 5-7, pp. 483-513, June 2017.

Endeavor Packbot response robot system inspecting a dexterity artifact.

Response Robots

The NERVE Center houses test methods for response robots, meaning those used for urban search and rescue (USAR) and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), collaborating with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to develop these test methods.

Standard test methods are specified through the ASTM E54.09 Committee on Homeland Security Applications; Subcommittee on Response Robots and are used to evaluate robot capabilities and measure operator proficiency.

These test methods apply to ground, aerial, and aquatic robots, organized into suites including mobility, dexterity, maneuvering, situation awareness, sensors, and safety.

The NERVE Center's focus is on test methods for human-robot interaction evaluation, such as those that highlight an operator's decision-making capabilities that could be assisted by effective robot autonomy techniques.

Selected Publication:

Adam Norton, Brian Flynn, and Holly Yanco. Implementing Human-Robot Interaction Evaluation Using Standard Test Methods for Response Robots. Homeland Security and Public Safety: Research, Applications and Standards, ASTM STP1614, ASTM International, pp. 63-90, November 2019.