Research Article: In-home and remote use of robotic body surrogates by people with profound motor deficits

Date Published: March 15, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Phillip M. Grice, Charles C. Kemp, Yih-Kuen Jan.


By controlling robots comparable to the human body, people with profound motor deficits could potentially perform a variety of physical tasks for themselves, improving their quality of life. The extent to which this is achievable has been unclear due to the lack of suitable interfaces by which to control robotic body surrogates and a dearth of studies involving substantial numbers of people with profound motor deficits. We developed a novel, web-based augmented reality interface that enables people with profound motor deficits to remotely control a PR2 mobile manipulator from Willow Garage, which is a human-scale, wheeled robot with two arms. We then conducted two studies to investigate the use of robotic body surrogates. In the first study, 15 novice users with profound motor deficits from across the United States controlled a PR2 in Atlanta, GA to perform a modified Action Research Arm Test (ARAT) and a simulated self-care task. Participants achieved clinically meaningful improvements on the ARAT and 12 of 15 participants (80%) successfully completed the simulated self-care task. Participants agreed that the robotic system was easy to use, was useful, and would provide a meaningful improvement in their lives. In the second study, one expert user with profound motor deficits had free use of a PR2 in his home for seven days. He performed a variety of self-care and household tasks, and also used the robot in novel ways. Taking both studies together, our results suggest that people with profound motor deficits can improve their quality of life using robotic body surrogates, and that they can gain benefit with only low-level robot autonomy and without invasive interfaces. However, methods to reduce the rate of errors and increase operational speed merit further investigation.

Partial Text

Individuals with profound motor deficits currently require assistance from human caregivers to complete many physical self-care tasks. This care can create financial challenges in providing for professional caregivers, and can place both physical and emotional burdens on informal caregivers. Assistive robots that enable people with profound motor deficits to perform tasks for themselves could be beneficial. For example, the ability to care for oneself (self-care self-efficacy) correlates with improved quality of life and decreased depression in stroke patients [1], and reducing care burden may improve caregiver mortality rates [2].

In this section, we present the methods we used for this research, starting with a brief description of the robot hardware followed by a detailed presentation of the interface and descriptions of Study 1 and Study 2.

In this section, we present the results of Study 1 and Study 2. Both Study 1 and Study 2 completed successfully without incident.

In this section, we discuss the results and implications of the research.

Overall, we have shown that people with profound motor deficits can effectively use robotic body surrogates at home and in remote locations. The participants in our study had a variety of impairments and used a web browser with their preferred off-the-shelf assistive input devices, which suggests that this type of assistive technology could be used by a diverse range of people. One participant also operated the robotic body surrogate in a home setting over a seven day period with only limited assistance, indicating that this assistive technology can operate effectively outside the context of a laboratory evaluation. Together, these results suggest that robotic body surrogates could provide improved independence and self-care self-efficacy for individuals with profound motor deficits.




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