AR-controlled robot could help people with motor disabilities with daily tasks

In a small study published in PLOS ONE, 80 percent of participants using a surrogate robot achieved clinically meaningful improvement on a modified version of the Action Research Arm Test.
By Laura Lovett
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Augmented reality combined with robotics could enable people with physical disabilities to be more independent, according to a study recently published in PLOS ONE

Researchers from Georgia Tech have developed a new augmented reality system that lets people with severe motor disabilities control a human-sized robot to help with self care through a mouse or small assitive device. 

“Our results suggest that people with profound motor deficits can improve their quality of life using robotic body surrogates,” said Phillip Grice, first author of the paper, told the Georgia Tech news outlet. “We have taken the first step toward making it possible for someone to purchase an appropriate type of robot, have it in their home and derive real benefit from it.”

TOP LINE DATA

In the small study published at the end of last week, 80 percent, or 12 out of 15 of the participants using the system, made clinically meaningful improvements on a modified version of the Action Research Arm Test (ARAT) and simulated self-care tasks. 

The publication also outlines a second, even smaller study, where one ‘expert user’ with motor deficiencies used the technology for a week in his home. Researchers identified 59 ‘top-level’ tasks that the expert user was able to employ the technology for, including brushing his teeth and shaving. 

“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,” authors wrote in the study. 

HOW IT WAS DONE

Researchers employed the PR2 robot running Ubuntu 14.04 and an open-source Robot Operating System called Indigo Igloo for the study. The team made adjustments to the robot including padding metal grippers and adding “fabric-based tactile sensing” in certain areas.

Researchers then combined this with a web-based augmented reality system that they developed especially for this use.  

The first study included 15 participants at least 18 years old who were able to operate a computer mouse or equivelent and scored a nine or fewer on the ARAT. 

The study took place over four sessions. During the first session the research team collected demographic data and tested participants’ ARAT score. The second session included guided practice of how to use the technology. In the third session participants were able to remotely operate the robotics and complete the ARAT. During the last session participants were tested on their skills using the robotic system for self care. 

In the small second study, one participant, who was deemed an “expert user” with profound motor deficits used the system in his home for seven days. 

BACKGROUND

Robotics are increasingly becoming a part of digital health. Robotic and AR assisted surgeries have become an area of interest in the space. 

But there are still a lot of unknowns with how robotics could help people with motor disabilities. 

“The extent to which people with profound motor deficits can benefit from robotic body surrogates has been unclear,” researchers said. “Relevant published work has primarily involved only a small number of participants, often a single participant, making the extent to which the results would generalize across other people with profound motor deficits uncertain.”

ON THE RECORD

“Overall, we have shown that people with profound motor deficits can effectively use robotic body surrogates at home and in remote locations,” authors of the study wrote. “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.”