Posted by: robotnews | April 2, 2006

Rehab Robots at your service..

U0206727 – Rajen Suchede

Right.. Before I kick off into the actual robots discussed in this blog, let me try shedding some light into the two themes core to this article – rehabilitation and robotics. As defined by the Oxford dictionary, rehabilitation is an activity which aims to enable a disabled person to reach an optimum mental, physical, and/or social functional level. A robot (yeah, we all know what it is but do we know how the Oxford dictionary defines it!) is a mechanical device that sometimes resembles a human and is capable of performing a variety of often complex human tasks on command or by being programmed in advance. Hence rehabilitation robotics deals with advancing robotics technology to provide the physically disabled people with tools to improve their quality of life and productivity of work.

Traditional industrial robots have always been programmed to follow a particular structure and sequence to accomplish a series of repetitive tasks. An example of such robots are those used in car manufacturing which need to do the exact same thing for every car each time, without any dynamic change in control. However, rehab robots require a lot more than being programmed to do a series of step-by-step tasks since we have an actual man–machine interaction. This poses a difficult challenge to the designers since these robots should now be able to interact with “anyone” and be dynamic enough to adapt to each different individual. Moreover, while designing such robots we need to keep the safety aspect in mind. Hence, there is not much point in preprogramming these robots. What is needed is an increased amount of sensors to guide the robot and increase their performance and develop separate devices to control the robots. What’s more difficult now is that these devices should be operable by the people in rehab. Hence most designers work at rehab centers so they can test if the rehab patients are able to properly grasp and control the robots.

Right, moving on to the actual robot I intend to discuss in this blog – WALKY. There have been a lot of robots that were developed to help disabled people in the office environment. However, what they didn’t realize is that people with disabilities are neither interested nor competent in administrative work. The WALKY is designed for help the disabled in a laboratory environment. In the lab, this robot can be used to carry out the mechanical tasks such as moving test tubes etc, leaving the more qualitative for the people to perform. This same robot can use many individuals working in adjacent locations to perform the same tasks. Have a look below and you’ll get a better idea:

I personally feel that WALKY has a great future as an assistive device for people with disabilities. The possibilities are infinite. Forget for a moment that it was developed for use in a laboratory environment. Tweaking the codes a bit, we can use this same robot at home say help out with chores at the kitchen, opening the refrigerator and getting you a drink. What would make an interesting discussion is what price can one pay for such an assistive device and thinking of ways to making the most out of it. Leave your comments..

References:

[1] “WALKY – Mobile robot system for rehabilitation”, Gunnar Bolmsjo, Online: http://www.robotics.lu.se/publications/1995/bolmsjo95b/HTML/node10.html

[2] “Sesor-based navigating mobile robots for people with disabilities”, Hakan Neveryd, Center fir Rehabilitation Research pp. 1-84.

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Responses

  1. U0202755 – Mustansir Zakirhusain

    This is an interesting idea. Of course, as you mentioned the possibilities are infinite but I believe that one of the reasons that a rehab robot would still achieve only limited success is because I find it hard to conceive that a robot will be able to predict/sense and have the intuition to support a person through rehab.

    Instead an extensive study in relation to certain rehab assistance – say for improving muscle activity in the left leg, might need certain exercises and procedures. I believe that an identified area could be programmed and hence might achieve a higher rate of success.

    Also, a word of caution – the risk and vulnerability during a rehab recovery might be higher. Trusting and imposing technology is an issue that is highly contested in areas where a price tag is discussed – especially when you try to place it on a human life.

  2. u0205260 – Domingue Jean Michel David

    As you have mentioned, I think more advancement with WALKY can be made by improving the functionality of the robot.

    Given that people with physical disabilities might like to perform tasks (other than admin/office/desk stuff) which they cant due to their condition (for instance lab work), then WALKY is a good option to provide those people with the right kind of assistance in performing the physically challenging task and leaving the thinking stuff to the person.

    The developer mentions it that people with physical disabilities prefer such robots to assist them in everyday chores rather than a personal human assistant.

    So it could have a positive use in that direction.

  3. U0204951-Xu Lixia
    In my view,i will think that though the robots do can help the physically disabled to improve their productivity but they will not be able to provide emotional support which these patients need the most.The success of these robots are only limited and could never replace a personal human assistant.I am sure people would prefer a human assistant rather than a robot who cannot provide him with the counselling etc.
    And furthermore,with the costs involved,how many people would be able to afford this robot?The high cost for their medical treatment is already high enough much less adding on the cost of hiring such robots.
    So i do not think that this robot can really help disabled people,for those who are not rich enough,they will pose more of a burden (to the cost) rather than an assistantthat can provide physical and emotional support.

  4. U0205159 Du Xing

    I feel that the rehab robot would be useful in performing predictable, repetitive or mundane tasks.
    Besides rehabilitation, the robot can be used to help the disabled and take the place of a guide dog for the blind!
    As the disabled people nowadays prefer to be independent, this robot can make it completely possible for them, sweeping out the inconvenience and make life easier for them.
    But it is true that making such a robot would involve high cost, especially if it has to be tailor made for each individual.

  5. u0206584- Vidhya

    I agree with Mustan and Lixia that there is a limitation on the capacity of a robot to replace a human as an assistant to patients because rehabilitation involves the mental and emotional aspects apart from the physical. However, reliability and tirelessness are areas in which robots may score over humans who are limited by their patience, stamina etc.So, rehab robots used together with human experts in rehab centres will optmize the benefits for patients and reduce costs as well.

  6. U0300641 Yeo Choon Wee

    I think robots in this area need a lot of improvement before it can be accepted by the society as people who underwent rehabilitation need more than just care for their normal needs. This is an area where human touch is more important. Human interaction and timely encouragement are often viewed more important for fast recovery. Thou this robot can reduce the cost by replacing mundane jobs, but it also reduces the number of people the patient can talk to. Furthermore, there is probably a barrier to interact to robots when robots are made with the capability to do so.


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