An interface system that uses extended reality technology can help people with deep motor damage to manage a humanoid robot in order to feed and perform routine personal care tasks such as scratching and applying lotions to the skin. A web-based interface displays a "robot-viewer" environment to help users communicate with the world through the machine.
The system, described March 15 in the magazine PLOS ONE, can help sophisticated robots to be more useful to people who have no experience in the work of complex robotic systems. Participants in the study interacted with the robotic interface using standard computer access technologies – such as eye trackers and head scanners – that they already used to control their personal computers.
This paper reported on two studies showing how such "robotic surrogates of the body" – that can perform jobs similar to those in humans – can improve the quality of life of users. The paper could provide a basis for the development of faster and more capable auxiliary robots.
"Our results indicate that people with deep motor deficits can improve their quality of life using robotic surrogates of the body," said Phillip Grice, a recent Ph.D. graduate who is the first author of the paper. "We have made a first step in making it possible for someone to buy the right type of robot, to have it in their own home and to get the real benefit out of it."
Miss and Professor Charlie Kemp from the Department of Biomedical Engineering Vallace H. Coulter at Georgia Tech and Emori Universites used the PR2 mobile manipulator produced by Vill's Garage for two studies. The robot with wheels has 20 degrees of freedom, with two hands and a "head", giving it the ability to manipulate objects such as water bottles, towels, hairbrush and even electric shaver.
"Our goal is to allow people with limited use of their own bodies to access robotic bodies so they can communicate with the world in new ways," said Kemp.
In their first study, Greice and Kemp made the PR2 available via the internet to a group of 15 participants with severe motor damage. Participants learned to remotely control the robot by using their own auxiliary mouse cursor management equipment to perform the personal care task. Eighty percent of participants managed to manipulate the robot to pick up a bottle of water and brought it to the mouth of the doll.
"Compared to capable people, robot capabilities are limited," said Grice. "However, participants were able to perform tasks efficiently and demonstrate improvements in a clinical assessment that measured their ability to manipulate objects compared to what they could do without a robot."
In a second study, the researchers provided PR2 and the interface system to Henry Evans, a California man who helped researchers from Georgia Tech to study and improve auxiliary robotic systems since 2011. In addition, Evans, who has very limited control over his body, tested the robot in his home for seven days, not only did he complete tasks, but he also devised new ways of combining the work of both robotic arms at the same time – using one hand to control the towel and the other to use brush.
"The system was very liberating because it allowed me to manipulate my own environment for the first time since my stroke," Evans said. "In relation to other people, I was thrilled that Phil received tremendous positive results when he objectively tested the system with 15 other people."
The researchers were pleased that Evans developed new uses for robots, combining the movement of two hands in a way that they did not expect.
"When we gave Henry free access to the robot in a week, he found new opportunities for its use that we did not anticipate," said Grice. "This is important because many of the auxiliary technologies available today are designed for very specific purposes. What Henry has shown is that this system is powerful in helping and empowering users, and the potential for this is potentially very broad."
The interface allowed Evans to take care of himself in bed for a long period of time. "The most useful aspect of the interface system was that I could manage the robot completely independently with only small head movements using an extremely intuitive graphical user interface," said Evans.
A web-based interface shows users how the world looks from the cameras in the robot head. Closed-controlled controls allow users to move robots in the home or other environment and control the arms and arms of the robot. For example, when users move the robot head, the screen shows the mouse cursor as a pair of eyeballs to show where the robot will look when the user clicks. Clicking on the disk surrounding the robotic hands allows users to choose the movement. While driving a robot around the room, the lines that follow the cursor on the interface indicate the direction of movement.
Building an easy-to-use single-button mouse interface allows people with disabilities to use an interface without long training.
"Having an interface that individuals with a wide range of physical damage can function means that we can provide access to a wide circle of people, a form of universal design," noted the Greeks. "Due to its capability, this is a very complex system, so the challenge we had to overcome was to make it accessible to individuals who have very limited control over their own bodies."
Although the results of the study showed what the researchers intend to do, Kemp agrees that improvements can be made. The existing system is slow, and mistakes made by users can create significant obstacles. Nevertheless, he said: "People could use this technology today and benefit from it."
The cost and size of PR2 should be significantly reduced to make the system commercially viable, suggested by Evans. Kemp says these studies indicate the way to a new type of auxiliary technology.
"It seems to me that based on this study it is possible that robotic surrogate bodies provide significant benefits for users," Kemp added.
This work was supported by the National Institute for Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), donation 90RE5016-01-00 through RERC TechSAge, National Science Foundation Award IIS-1150157, National Science Scholarship Foundation Award, and Housing Elderly institutions from Fulton Counti Scholar Avard.
Kemp is co-founder, board member, owner of capital and technical director of Hello Robot Inc., who develops products related to this research. This research may affect his personal financial status. The terms of this arrangement have been reviewed and approved by Georgia Tech in accordance with their conflicts of interest policies.
CITATION: Phillip M. Grice and Charles C. Kemp, "In-home and remote use of robot co-workers by people with deep motor deficits" (PLOS ONE 2019).