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Innovation

With robots, disabled gain independence

Willow Garage and Georgia Tech have teamed up to explore ways personal robots can be used to give people with severe physical disabilities more independence.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

Willow Garage and the Healthcare Robotics Lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology have teamed up to explore ways personal robots can be used to give people with severe physical disabilities more independence.

The project, called "Robots for Humanity," involves research into how robots can perform quotidien tasks -- scratching an itch, or shaving one's face -- that a disabled person may not be able to manage on their own.

Willow Garage chief executive Steve Cousins writes on the company's blog:

Henry Evans is a mute quadriplegic, having suffered a stroke when he was just 40 years old. Following extensive therapy, Henry regained the ability to move his head and use a finger, which allows him to operate computers. Last year, Henry caught a TV interview of Georgia Tech Professor Charlie Kemp showing research with the Willow Garage PR2 robot. Willow Garage and Professor Kemp were contacted by Henry shortly afterwards, and we have been collaborating since then.

We are currently exploring ways for Henry to use a PR2 robot as his surrogate. Every day, people take for granted the simple act of scratching an itch. In Henry's case, 2-3 times every hour of every day he gets an itch he can't scratch. With the aid of a PR2, Henry was able to scratch an itch for himself for the first time in 10 years.

Part of this research involves testing a variety of user interfaces to control the robot -- in Evans' case, a head tracker. It's an interesting approach that could allow robots to make a greater impact on the managed care sector of the healthcare industry.

But this is the kind of thing you need to see to believe. Here's a look in a video:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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