AI News, Robot Helps Quadriplegic Scratch an Itch for the First Time in a Decade

Robot Helps Quadriplegic Scratch an Itch for the First Time in a Decade

We love watching PR2 fold laundry, play pool, bake cookies, and bring us beer, but robots with the capability to do the same kinds of things that humans can do aren't around just to take over for us when we're feeling lazy.

Robots also exist to do things that humans can't do, whether that's making fast and precise movements, defusing bombs, or lending a gripper to a person with a disability.

What is realistic (I hope) is that what Willow Garage and Georgia Tech are learning here will help them to design better software and hardware for the next generation of home service and healthcare robots, which will be affordable so more people can have them.

"I Was Trapped in My Own Body"

Atop long and winding Page Mill Road, where the miles turn over without fanfare, a driveway stretches, removed from Silicon Valley below.

Most of the time, though, he is here, head propped up, the rest of his body motionless beneath the covers.

Though Henry can turn his head and has limited use of one finger on his left hand, the rest of his body is paralyzed.

They narrow and focus, connecting the distant world with the bright and passionate mind still fully functioning inside his head.

Nearly 3,000 miles away, a capacity crowd in Sidney Harman Hall in Washington, D.C., applauds as Henry, MBA '91, is introduced to give a TED talk.

When Henry lost the ability to move most of his body and to speak, the disabled world gained a strong advocate, and those who study robotics got a tireless and passionate thinker.

A few years into his new life, Henry recognized the potential of robots to level the playing field for severely disabled individuals.

Like Henry, many people are dependent on caregivers for their 'activities of daily living,' as they are called: eating, showering, moving around, shaving, even scratching an itch.

He has become an idea generator and a test pilot, using robots to open drawers and even to shave.

He has helped create and test user interfaces and programs, providing feedback for his collaborators at more than half a dozen universities and labs across the country.

The whole alphabet is there, and as Henry's wife, Jane, holds up the board, she follows his eyes and calls out the letters he focuses on, spelling words as he goes.

Sometimes, when they long for an embrace, she maneuvers his arms to wrap around her, squeezes him and feels the pressure of him leaning in.

A small reflective circle dots his glasses, and a laptop sits in front of him, allowing him to type emails, post messages online and stay in touch with the people who work on robotics.

Using an onscreen keyboard, I can type up to 15 wpm,' he explains, using the abbreviation for words per minute.

His emails read as if he had no disability, with the exception of a small signature at the bottom that, much like an apology for typos made via smartphone, asks the recipient to please pardon the message's brevity because it was typed with Henry's head.

'There are a lot of disadvantages to using email to talk, but it is better than being a complete vegetable,' he noted on a blog.

One August morning, despite a headache that had begun the night before, Henry was driving his children to school on the way to work.

'They took Jane into a room full of doctors and told her that, in their professional opinion, I would never move and her best bet was to pump me full of antidepressants and stick me in an institution, and soon.

And though Henry had developed use of a finger and better control of his neck, he had a hard time thinking about living.

Henry called itRobots for Humanity, describing his work as 'using technology to extend our capabilities, fill in our weaknesses and let people perform at their best.'

'Now, I may have lost a few of the natural adaptations which evolution afforded me, but I have adapted to these limitations, often in a way similar to how you have adapted to nature's limitations.

Thanks to software developed by Chad Jenkins, an associate professor of computer science at Brown University, Henry could operate the robot remotely on his own computer.

'I suspect that a mobile manipulator being controlled from across the country to help someone shave is a first for robotics,' Kemp wrote.

'Long-distance teleoperation of mobile manipulators to make contact with a remotely located person's body (face!) is probably rare, too.

I would be especially surprised if a person withquadriplegia has ever controlled a mobile manipulatorfrom across the country to position a razor near a person's face.'

It provided further evidence that people with motor impairments could operate robots to perform physical labor from remote sites, perhaps for compensation.

Not only did Henry speak—both beside Jenkins on the stage and at home beside Jane—but he also demonstrated how he could fly a drone remotely, onstage.

Yahoo!-ABC News Network | © 2018 ABC News Internet Ventures. All rights reserved.

It's been 10 years since Henry Evans has been able to perform some of the simplest of tasks, like scratching his face, shaving, putting objects into a drawer.

At 40, Evans, a father of four with an MBA and a career in finance, had a brain stem stroke that left him a quadriplegic.

with the help of a tracking device he wears on his head, it's enough so that he can use a computer, moving a mouse and typing letters one by one.

'I was lying in bed, watching TV as usual and suddenly I was staring at this wonderful robot,' Evans wrote in an email to ABC News.

He was on the news report, demonstrating how the robot, with a radio-frequency identification tag around its neck, could help elderly patients take their medication at the right time.

Willow Garage provided the robot, free of charge (it sells for up to $400,000), to Georgia Tech and 10 other research institutions around the world.

The company's goal is to accelerate research by providing a basic, state-of-the-art robot so that researchers don't have to build their own from scratch.

'I imagined developing technologies to help disabled people and raising money for it from people who had made money in electronics in Silicon Valley (or by getting a government grant).'

By June, the interface had been developed to the point where Evans, by moving his head and finger and using the interface, could position the robot's arm near his face so he could shave and -- for the first time in years -- scratch an itch.

Say, if you fall down and break your ankle, you might be able to rent a robot for six weeks and have it go to the fridge for you.'

'But usually they'll come in and we'll do a study, they'll give us some good suggestions, but it's usually a short-term thing.

The Caregiver Principle

Robots for Humanity (R4H) is about using technology to extend our capabilities, fill in our weaknesses, and let people perform at their best.

Devices developed by members of Robots for Humanity thus far range from an interactive laser mounted on his glasses, to a very expensive humanoid robot (PR2) which serves as Henry's body surrogate, to various flying quad rotors.

Henry Evans and Chad Jenkins: Meet the robots for humanity

Paralyzed by a stroke, Henry Evans uses a telepresence robot to take the stage -- and show how new robotics, tweaked and personalized by a group called Robots for Humanity, help him live his...