Body surrogate robot helps people with motor impairments care for themselves

body surrogate robots 195742 web 1
Showing its capabilities as a body surrogate, a PR2 controlled remotely by an individual with profound motor deficits picks up a cup in a research laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Phillip Grice, Georgia Tech

Robots might be coming for your job, but they can do tremendous good in the world as well. Assistive technologies can benefit people with disabilities by giving them greater independence and control over their lives, like the assistant robot developed by a team at Georgia Tech to help people who have severe motor impairments.

“Our goal is to give people with limited use of their own bodies access to robotic bodies so they can interact with the world in new ways,” Professor Charlie Kemp from the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech said in a statement.

The system they came up with is based on a robot called a PR2 mobile manipulator manufactured by Willow Garage. It is a wheeled robot with two arms and a head, and it can manipulate objects like water bottles, washcloths, hairbrushes, or an electric shaver. Crucially, the robot can be controlled using assistance technologies that users are already familiar with, such as eye tracking or head tracking. The interface shows a “robot’s eye view” from cameras inside the robot’s head, making it easier for the user to control.

body surrogate robots 195741 web 1
Robotic body surrogates can help people with profound motor deficits interact with the world. Here, Henry Evans, a California man who helped Georgia Tech researchers with improvements to a web-based interface, uses the robot to shave himself. Henry Clever/Phillip Grice

Potential users of the robot surrogates include people like Henry Evans, who worked with the team during their testing and who has very limited control of his body following a stroke. Evans used the robot to care for himself for a week and emphasized the value of having a system that he could operate completely independently, using small head movements to give it commands.

“The system was very liberating to me, in that it enabled me to independently manipulate my environment for the first time since my stroke,” Evans said. But he also pointed out that although the robot could already bring benefits to users as it exists today, it would need to be reduced in size and in cost before it could be made commercially available.

Phillip Grice, a recent Georgia Institute of Technology Ph.D. graduate and first author of the paper, was also pleased with the results: “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.”

The results are published in the journal PLOS One.

Gaming

Google’s Stadia is the future of gaming, and that’s bad news for our planet

Google’s upcoming Stadia cloud gaming service, and its competitors, are ready to change the way gamers play, but in doing so they may kick off a new wave of data center growth – with unfortunate consequences for the environment.
Emerging Tech

Burgers are just the beginning: Embracing the future of lab-grown everything

You’ve almost certainly heard of the 'farm to fork' movement, but what about 'lab to table'? Welcome to the fast-evolving world of lab-grown meat. Is this the future of food as we know it?
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix in March, from Buster Scruggs to Roma

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Smart Home

I have seen the future, and it’s full of salad-making robots

Think that robots bussing tables, tossing salads and baking bread is a futuristic concept? It's actually not as far away as you might think. Robots took center stage at a food robotics summit in San Francisco this week, where they showed…
Emerging Tech

Beresheet crash caused by manual command, but reflector device may have survived

Details are emerging about what may have gone wrong with spacecraft Beresheet's failed moon landing. A manual command was entered which led to a chain reaction. But NASA still hopes to salvage use of its Laser Retroreflector Array device.
Emerging Tech

The oldest type of molecule in the universe has been located at last

A milestone in the development of the early universe was the combination of helium and hydrogen atoms into a molecule called helium hydride. But strangely enough, this ancient molecule has never been detected in space before now.
Emerging Tech

The grid of the future will be powered by … giant subterranean bagpipes?

In order to transition to a more renewable-focused energy system, we need to scale up our grid storage capacity --- and our existing methods aren't going to cut it. Could compressed air be the key?
Emerging Tech

Mercury’s wobble as it spins reveals that it has an inner solid core

Scientists have long wondered what the inside of Mercury looks like, and they now have strong evidence that the planet has a large and solid metallic core. The data for the new findings was collected by the now-defunct MESSENGER mission.
Emerging Tech

Gravitational forces at heart of Milky Way shaped this star cluster like a comet

Hubble has captured the stunning Messier 62 cluster. The cluster is warped, with a long tail which stretches out to form a shape like a comet. It is thought this distortion is due to Messier 62's proximity to the center of the galaxy.
Emerging Tech

Troubleshooting Earth

It’s no secret that humans are killing the planet. Some say it’s actually so bad that we’re hurtling toward a sixth major extinction event -- one which we ourselves are causing. But can technology help us undo the damage we’ve…
Emerging Tech

Inside the Ocean Cleanup’s ambitious plan to rid the ocean of plastic waste

In 2013, Boyan Slat crowdfunded $2.2 million to fund the Ocean Cleanup, a nonprofit organization that builds big, floating trash collectors and sets them out to sea, where they’re designed to autonomously gobble up garbage.
Emerging Tech

Climeworks wants to clean the atmosphere with a fleet of truck-sized vacuums

Using machines that resemble jet engines, Climeworks wants to fight climate change by extracting CO2 from thin air. The gas can then be sold to carbonated drink and agriculture companies, or sequestered underground.
Emerging Tech

How 3D printing has changed the world of prosthetic limbs forever

When he was 13 years old, Christophe Debard had his leg amputated. Here in 2019, Debard's Print My Leg startup helps others to create 3D-printed prostheses. Welcome to a growing revolution!
Emerging Tech

Geoengineering is risky and unproven, but soon it might be necessary

Geoengineering is a field dedicated to purposely changing the world's climate using technology. Call it 'playing god' if you must; here's why its proponents believe it absolutely must happen.