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Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Replacing Lost Abilities with a Robot

Technology Review
July 19, 2011

Henry Evans recently shaved himself for the first time since a stroke left him mute and partly paralyzed 10 years ago. His achievement came thanks to researchers in robotics, not medicine, and it demonstrates the huge potential that robots have for assisting people with disabilities.

Yet it also shows how much work still needs to be done to enable robots to work closely with humans. Each time Evans uses the robot, he must be accompanied by engineers ready to intervene if something goes wrong.

The techniques being developed to address this challenge could also prove useful in factories where they could enable humans and robots to work together more closely on complex manufacturing tasks.

Evans has been using a two-armed robot on wheels known as a PR2, which was created by the private research lab Willow Garage.

Evans operates the robot by moving an on-screen cursor with head movements, and by clicking a button with one finger. Engineers at Willow Garage and the Healthcare Robotics Lab at Georgia Tech built a special user interface the runs on Evans's computer to enable him to control the robot and views from cameras on the robot's head and arms.

Evans can take direct control and steer the movements of its wheeled base and arms. He can also click on the video feeds from the camera to tell the robot where to position one of its grippers, or where to grasp an object.
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