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

Phillip M. Grice, Charles C. Kemp

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.

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