Marcia O'Malley

WEBSITE(S)| Faculty Bio | Research Lab

In addition to her role as Thomas Michael Panos Family Professor in Mechanical Engineering, Marcia O’Malley serves as Associate Dean for Research and Innovation for the George R. Brown School of Engineering.


Main Responsibilities:

- Assisting in identifying research funding opportunities and providing coordination for large center-type grant opportunities;

- Coordinating the mentoring of faculty on research issues (particularly junior faculty);

- Serving as point person on internal research related award competitions and coordinating the School’s efforts for external faculty and student awards;

- Approving proposal submissions through Cayuse and evaluating grant cost-share opportunities and indirect cost waivers (in collaboration with the Senior Associate Dean);

- Implementing the research aspects of the Schools Strategic Plan;

- Working with the school communications team to increase the visibility of our research accomplishments and impact;

- Working with the administration to ensure that research administrative processes are effective and efficient;

- Working with other campus research leadership on strategic research partnerships;

- Working closely with foundation and corporate relations to expand research partnerships with industry; and, 

- Serving as the internal chair of the Engineering Advisory Board Research and Translation subcommittee.

Research Areas

Marcia O’Malley’s research addresses issues that arise when humans physically interact with robotic systems, with a focus on training and rehabilitation in virtual environments. The main goal of this research is to develop and demonstrate an adaptive training algorithm based on the display of artificial force cues within a simulated environment. These cues, displayed via an arm exoskeleton haptic feedback device, will convey additional information to the trainee beyond the physical laws that govern the simulated environment, such as desired trajectories within the environment, desired exploration speeds, and suitable interaction forces during task completion. The adaptive training algorithm will tune itself based on the individual's performance.

MAHI Lab studies technology that communicates by touch, October 2018 (Jeff Fitlow)
MAHI Lab studies technology that communicates by touch, October 2018 (Jeff Fitlow)
A hybrid rigid-soft hand exoskeleton to assist functional dexterity, Rose 2019
A hybrid rigid-soft hand exoskeleton to assist functional dexterity, Rose 2019

Industry Impact & Relevance

The MAHI (Mechatronics and Haptic Interfaces) Lab studies physical human-robot interaction. Physical interactions between humans and robots are information rich exchanges that can be leveraged to enhance both human and robot performance. Dr. O’Malley’s research focuses on the design of robotic hardware and control systems for applications that involve collaboration between humans and robots. Examples include skill training in virtual reality; control of remote robots; human-human, human-robot, and human-agent communication; and movement assistance for workforce safety, dexterity enhancement, strength enhancement, and rehabilitation following injury. Robots are increasingly being used in applications that involve close coordination and even physical contact with humans. No longer are robots relegated to roped off spaces on factory floors. Instead, they are in our homes, healthcare facilities, and workplaces. Robots can be used to train workers in virtual reality, using force feedback and haptics to guide the trainee like a virtual coach and objectively assess performance. Wearable robotic systems can augment human dexterity and strength. Pre-programmed robots can be tuned by allowing a human expert to adjust movements during execution. Together, these capabilities can improve workforce efficiency, safety, and productivity.


2001 Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, Vanderbilt University

1999 M.S. in Mechanical Engineering, Vanderbilt University

1996 B.S.M.E. in Mechanical Engineering, Purdue University

Advisory Role

Co-Chair, Robotics Public Policy Task Force, American Society of Mechanical Engineers

Standing Committee of External Evaluators for Robotics, Italian Institute of Technology

Teaching Areas

Introduction to Robotics

Design of Mechatronic Systems

Translational Neuroengineering

Modeling of Dynamic Systems

Recent Patent Applications

US9910411B2 “Method and device for real-time differentiation of analog and digital signals”

Societies & Organizations

Fellow, American Society of Mechanical Engineers

Member, Scientia

Senior Member, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers

Honors & Awards

2019: Women in Science with Excellence (WISE) Award, BioHouston

2019: Faculty Award for Excellence in Research, Teaching and Service, Rice University

2019: Graduate Student Association Faculty Teaching and Mentoring Award, Rice University

2018: Hamill Innovation Award, Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering, Rice University

2017: George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching, Rice University

2014: Fellow, American Society of Mechanical Engineers

2008: George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching, Rice University

2004: Literati Award for Excellence, Emerald Publication

2003: Elite Team Award, NASA Johnson Space Center Automation, Robotics, and Simulation Division

2002: Summer Faculty Fellowship, NASA/American Society for Engineering Education

Researcher Media

Tactile feedback adds muscle sense to prosthetic hand, MAHI Lab at Rice

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