Monday, March 19, 2007

Robotic legs to replace wheelchairs

U036367L Khoo Wei Chuan Eldery and disabled patients who suffer from movement difficulties have long been subjected to many inconveniences be it at home or outdoors. Despite the invention of wheelchairs and their automated counterparts being able to resolve this problem partially, it can be seen that it has introduced many new problems too. Most significantly, wheelchairs occupy a large amount of base area which in turn requires equally large movement paths. In the context of middle and low incomed Singaporeans whose houses are usually small and compact, this introduces a significant amount of movement difficulty especially through corridors. In addition, as wheelchairs function through the use of two wheeled movement, it is typically incapable of performing acute turns and more importantly, movement through staircases is also impossible. The robotic legged movement aid developed by Professor Atsuo Takanishi is targeted at resolving these conventional problems faced by wheelchairs. With this replacement movement concept, Takanishi hopes to create a two-legged robot that can fully operate in a human environment, specifically being able to climb staircases and travel along rough surfaces like any normal Homo sapiens do. The concept in general is very well though of. However, in my opinion, there is one major implication that the developing team has to resolve, which is the overall height increment of the user. As seen from the attached image and linked article, the robotics legs are longer than the length of the user's knee to foot. Despite the user being in a sitting position, it is evident that he is still overall taller than the people around him. Without doubt, increased height will introduce movement difficulties in areas with lower ceilings but more importantly, we need to look at the psychological impact on the user owing to this increased height. By itself, being tall will not induce any negative feelings. However, since the users of this robotic legs are generally elderly and disabled patients, it must be understood that the height increment will more or less serve as a publicity of their movement difficulties. Hence, this may adversely affect the commercial potential of the product. Nevertheless, I do believe that the developers are aware of this issue but probably due to the necessity of using extendable 'limbs' in replace of joints for stable movement through staircases, such a limitation has continued to exist.


Home said...

Ng Buck Sin U046233B

Apart from the problems highlighted, the researchers should also look into the steering of the robotic legs. As mentioned, the robot is targeted at the elderly and disabled. Hence, the steering must be easy and simple enough for them to steer and handle.

In addiiton, there are already existing stairclimbing wheelchairs sold in the market. Would these robotics legs be able to out-perform these products in the near future?

Stairclimbing wheelchairs

Assistive said...

Khoo Wei Chuan U036367L

The discussion of robotic legs versus wheel based movement is actually very interesting. I am not sure how many of you watch Gundam/ Robotech series but the primary design intention of humanoid-based mobile fighters is basically an idealistic "human-like" agility and maneuverability which wheel-based mobile armours such as tanks cannot achieve.

But yah, I do agree with Buck Sin. With increased movement options, the complexity of control increases exponentially too. And being targeted at the elderly and disabled, the researchers definitely have to resolve this.

Bleh. Sadly, posting comments in ur own post doesnt count as part of the requirement. >.<

Home said...

Lee Kaizhao U036122x

First of all, I must applaud the Japanese researcher’s noble efforts in using robotics in the betterment of the elderly and the disabled. It must have been a huge challenge to come up with a 2-legged robot that can maneuver stairs and along a pebbly path without bouncing its user around like Osim’s iGallop.

As mentioned by Buck Sin and Wei Chuan, I agree that the next challenge is to ensure that the steering must be easy and simple enough for the elderly and the disabled to handle. The original article mentioned the robot “…is operated using a pair of joysticks. However, Takanishi also hopes to develop a model that could function more freely without such input.” I wonder what such alternative inputs could be. Perhaps reducing the joysticks to a single joystick or touchscreen? Or if they are ambitious enough, they might consider working with NUS to come up with Brain-controlled Robot-legs. (Note that NUS is currently working on a brain-controlled wheelchair. )

Assistive said...

From the video shown in Fuzzy Logic last semester, the brain-controlled wheelchair seem to require some sort of vision focus on the square boxes in the computer screen. Please correct me on this fact if I'm wrong. But if it functions through this way then they might be some inherent problems.

First and foremost, for elderly patients with failing eyesight, would operation of such a wheelchair be possible? Secondly, isnt it a bit dangerous to have to look at the computer screen while you are crossing the road?

If such a system has to be used, I would suggest the use of some sort of translucent visual support goggles whereby the maybe there can be nine square boxes on the screen in the goggles and the user will have to focus optical vision on one box and the wheelchair can proceed in the direction. As such, since the goggles are translucent, the position of the boxes will actually correspond to reality. But also, as a result, there needs to be some sort of command or button to activate/stop movement or the patient will bang into whatever he looks at. lol

Assistive said...

Khoo Wei Chuan U036367L

Oops. Forgot to put my name. Sorry for wasting post.

dars.explore said...

Filip Wistrand NT061734

I am very impressed with the walking chair. Even the control system seams quite easy. I think that if they can't make it smaller it will never be used inside. But as a mean of taking disabled persons outdoor for a walk in the forest it seams as a good solution.

However as previous post stated the chair must be easier to handle if it is to be used practical. Even if a young disabled person grown up with computer games where to use it. And i wonder how they hope to solve the power suply problem. The prototype shown in the video clip is walking like a camel witch might result in making the rider seasick. :( I also wonder how the target group, the elder are supposed to get into the chair.

If they solve all the problems it will be a very useful aid for the disabled. Until then they could always use the platform for creating humanoid robots.

dars.edutainment said...

Lim Jun Ming Kelvin U036328m

Reading this blog entry reminded me of an earlier blog entry titled :"Home Floor Washing Robot - Scooba 5900". Incooperating this two robots together and we have a cleaning robot that can climb stairs and clean two story houses :) As with regards to the steering, I think it should be such that the user only needs to indicate the general direction in which it wants to move, the robot itself needs to have some sensor to know what is the terrain in front like and it must have a corresponding algo to figure out how to travel on that terrain. For example, walking on a straight road and climbing stairs is different.

Industry said...

Thng Kang Liang U036278W

Firstly, i think this robot is going to benefit the disabled at large. However, it seems from the picture that the robot is hand-controlled. What happens when one is unfortunatey unable to control all limbs? Will the robot still work to benefit the user?

Secondly, what is the speed that the robot can travel at?

Medical said...

Wu Ronghua U036423A

I think it is a cool invention. This will definitely benefit those disabled people. For those who long to walk ago, this is really a new hope.
Eventually, instead of using joystick or touch screen, hopefully there can be the possibility of using the mind to control this invention. It will be so cool to control it using the mind as if it is was real legs.

Assistive said...

Khoo Wei Chuan U036367L

Direct mind control is definitely a field of study worth exploring. Ignoring the physical difficulties, I was also wondering about how the system is going to determine which brain information is meant for direction control and which isnt. As we all know, our brains usually do not just think of one thing at an instant but rather many simultaneously.

If the ability to determine brain thoughts can actually be realised, there will be limitless uses to this new technology. Below is an example of a fictional military application whereby a single pilot would be able to control a network of firing pods. May seem ridiculously impossible now but all inventions generally begin as dreams :)

Refer to Dragoon section:

Assistive said...

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