Sunday, April 02, 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:  “WALKY – Mobile robot system for rehabilitation”, Gunnar Bolmsjo, Online: http://www.robotics.lu.se/publications/1995/bolmsjo95b/HTML/node10.html  “Sesor-based navigating mobile robots for people with disabilities”, Hakan Neveryd, Center fir Rehabilitation Research pp. 1-84.