Posted in | Humanoids | Medical Robotics

Robotic Assistance Medical Staff

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology, presented ‘Cody’ a robot to assist medical staff . It can sponge bath patients. The Georgia Tech team presented a paper on its assistive robot at the 2010 International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS 2010) last month.

The modus operandi goes like this, autonomous robot uses lasers, robots specify a body part that needs to be cleaned, a camera then feeds the information to a microprocessor which, in turn, commands the robot's arm to wipe the selected area, which it swabs.

Cody comprises a Segway omni-directional mobile base, two anthropomorphic arms with seven degrees of freedom and wrists equipped with 6-axis force/torque sensors. The end of the robot’s right arm is fitted with a specialized “bath mitt” and the robot gathers laser range data and images from a laser range finder and camera mounted above the robot’s torso.

When a human, tells Cody, where on the body to clean, this is what happens, the (human)operator uses a mouse to select the two point co-ordinates that form the diagonal corners of a rectangular bounding box which include the area to be cleaned. Cody the scans the patient to locate the area by transforming the points to 3D Cartesian points and then autonomously executes the wiping behaviour sequence using the right arm.

Cody’s arm joints are slightly stiff, lessening the force of impact, and it is programmed to never exceed a specific threshold of pressure, thereby ensuring the safety and comfort of the patient.

Since the robot makes direct physical contact with a person, the team built in a number of safety features. The first is a run stop button that will terminate the robot’s motion during the experiment in case it makes “undesirable contact with the subject.” Secondly, the low stiffness of the robot’s joints is designed to soften the impact of the contact. Lastly, the robot’s controller attempts to maintain a downward force of 3 newtons against the subject’s body. If magnitude of the total force measured by the wrist force/torque sensor exceeds 30 newtons, the robot is commanded to stop.

Cody was tested on lead researcher Chih Hung King, who had bits of blue candy stuck to his arms and legs. Gently caressing its washcloth-clad hand, the robot successfully cleaned King’s various limbs.

“In the beginning I felt a bit tense, but never scared. As the experiment progressed, my trust in the robot grew and my tension waned. Throughout the experiment, I suffered little to no discomfort”, reacted King.

With a severe nurse scarcity in medical and health care facilities currently, any innovation that helps relieve nurses’ heavy workload will likely is more than welcome. For bedridden patients, a robot helper could make maintaining personal hygiene less uncomfortable than receiving a sponge bath from a human.

The research team estimates that currently, about 10.8 million Americans need personal assistance for normal daily activities and the rapidly aging population will see this number increase substantially in the coming decades.

Robots might also be able to replace human beings in tasks like lifting or fetching objects and general home-care.

Patients with motor impairments can be aided by assistive robots that perform hygiene tasks. The researchers feel that robots could one day ease the workload of nurses and provide greater independence and a better quality of life for those that need assistance.

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