Robotics and AR to Help Those with Motor Impairments

Robotics could help those who have almost no mobility at all take care of themselves over extended periods of time.

Paring two technologies that are reshaping the modern world, augmented reality and robotics, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have built a system that gives hope to those suffering from some form of motor impairment.

The new system would allow these individuals to move and take on daily tasks that would be otherwise impossible.

“Be My Eyes And Hands”   

15% or 1 billion of the world’s population suffer from some form of disability. Published in the journal PLOS ONE, this new system could help those who lack the motor skills perform tasks like brushing their teeth, feeding themselves, or simply picking up a book to read.

Individuals operate a humanoid robot to help complete these tasks while the robot’s web-based interface display allows the user to see their surrounding environments through the lenses of the machine, drastically improving the quality life of the disabled.

The aim of the Georgia Institute of Technology was to look at ways to make the complex robots that are currently available, more accessible to those with disabilities. Those with limited motor skills could, in fact, control a robot using standard assistive computer access technologies like eye trackers and head trackers.

As mentioned by Phillip Grice, a recent Georgia Institute of Technology Ph.D. graduate who is the first author of the paper, “Our results suggest that people with profound motor deficits can improve their quality of life using robotic body surrogates”

“We have taken the first step toward making it possible for someone to purchase an appropriate type of robot, have it in their home and derive real benefit from it."

Improving the Quality of Life

The study was broken down into two parts. For the first study, 15 participants with severe motor impairments learned how to operate a PR2 robot, a robot that has 20 degrees of freedom, with two arms and a "head”.

Robotics

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80% of participants were able to manipulate the robot remotely to assist them to pick up a bottle of water and bring it to a mouth.

“The participants were able to perform tasks effectively and showed improvement on a clinical evaluation that measured their ability to manipulate objects compared to what they would have been able to do without the robot”, says Grice.

While in the second part of the study, researchers allowed Henry Evans, a California man who has been helping Georgia Tech researchers study and improve assistive robotic systems, bring the PR2 system home for seven days.

Evans was able to create unique ways to take care of himself as well as wash himself and brush himself using the PR2 robot. "The system was very liberating to me, in that it enabled me to independently manipulate my environment for the first time since my stroke," said Evans.

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As the price of complex robotics goes down, tools like PR2 could become a viable option for those with motor impairments in the very near future.

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