Robot ‘eyes’ aid for motor impairments.

Robot ‘eyes’ aid for motor impairments.

The Georgia Institute of Technology has developed an interface system with augmented reality technology which gives a ‘robot’s eye view’ of the surroundings that could help people with motor impairments operate a robot to perform routine personal care tasks – even those as specific as scratching an itch or rubbing in hand cream.

The wheeled robot has two arms and a head, enabling it to manipulate objects such as a hairbrush, a water bottles and even an electric shaver.

Participants in a primary study used their own assistive equipment to operate a mouse curser to perform a task and were able control the robot remotely. Eighty percent of the participants could manipulate the robot to pick up a water bottle and bring it to the mouth of a mannequin.

In a second study, Henry Evans, California, tested the robot at home for seven days. He not only completed the tasks anticipated by the designers but was able to combine the operation of both robot arms at the same time – one to control a flannel and the other to use a brush. As much of the assisted technology available today is designed for very specific outcomes, the fact that Henry found new opportunities for using it suggests that the technology has great potential for empowering and assisting users.

Most impressively, the interface enabled Henry to care for himself in bed over an extended period of time.

“The most helpful aspect of the interface system was that I could operate the robot completely independently, with only small head movements using an extremely intuitive graphical user interface,” he says.

The web-based interface shows a view of the world from cameras placed in the robot’s head. Clickable controls overlaid on the view allow users to control the robot’s hands and arms and move the robot around the environment.

As the interface has been built around the actions of a simple single-button mouse in a form of universal design, lengthy training sessions are not necessary for people to use it, and it can be accessed by many – the next step is to reduce size and cost, enabling the technology to become commercially viable.