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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Robot Suits for Paralyzed People

Argo Medical Technologies Ltd, founded in 2001 and located in Haifa, Israel, develops and markets walk restoration devices for people with lower limb disabilities. The company's flagship ReWalk™ product offers an ambulation alternative to wheelchair users, enabling paralyzed people to stand, walk and even climb stairs. ReWalk is a viable upright walking assistance tool that enables wheelchair users with lower-limb disabilities to stand, walk, and even climb stairs. Now undergoing clinical trials, the device is expected to be available to the public next year. Now undergoing clinical trials, the device is expected to be available to the public later this year.

A similar exoskeleton system which is called Robot Suit HAL (Hybrid Assistive Limb) has been developed of Japanese Cyberdyne and a research team led by University of Tsukuba Professor Sankai Yoshiyuki. Sankai is the CEO of Cyberdyne Inc., and plans to begin making this robot suit available for rental through sales outlets.

Collaboration with teleoperated robots

Researchers at the University of Salzburg have asked two focus groups about their expectations related to robots as working partners. The research was part of the EU-project Advanced robotic systems in future collaborative working environments.

Generally, the participants associated positive expectations as well as negative expectations and fear about the future when working together with robots. Some of the mostly mentioned arguments concerning collaboration are that robots will never be able to substitute colleagues at work, as humans are needed for good social contact. Working together with robots increases isolation loneliness of human beings. Quotes: “It needs human beings for good social contact” or “A robot shall not substitute a human being.”

Most of the participants agree that a robot will never be an equal working colleague for them; All participants agree that a robot should displace a human being only in case of monotonous or dangerous work. Robots should only adopt physical work and support humans. Participants think a social robot would not be accepted because that would cause to a competition between human and robot effectiveness, whereas the robot will be the more efficient one .

The results of the study show that autonomous robots are differently perceived than teleoperated robots when security is concerned. People indicate to feel more secure when a human controls a robot compared with an autonomously acting robot. The teleoperated robot seems to be perceived more positively with regard to attractiveness and perceived quality than the autonomous robot.

The results therefore provide support for the fact that humans have a more positive attitude toward remotely-controlled robots. Furthermore, the study clearly demonstrates that functional design of robots is preferred (compared with humanoid and animal-like robots), as functional robots seem to rather inspire confidence than humanoid robots.

Telepresence robots

Telepresence robots are a new segment within mobile service robots providing solutions for advanced mobile video conferencing communication and remote navigation. The market is dominated by U.S. companies, still small and in search of viable business models.

One of the first commercially available telepresence robots was PeopleBot from MobileRobotics released in 2000 as a “Human Interface Robot” and robotic platform for applications such as business promotion, monitoring and entertainment.

InTouch Health , founded in 2002, is a world leader in Remote Presence healthcare solutions. The company offers its RP-7® Remote Presence Robotic System, a wireless, mobile robot featuring a 2-way video and audio computer system, for health care communication. Through the RP-7 healthcare professionals are enabled to consult with hospital-based patients and healthcare staff more rapidly and efficiently, thereby improving hospital throughput, physician efficiency and quality of care. The Company has over 200 RP-7 systems deployed in acute care settings that are utilized for a range of clinical applications including stroke and multidisciplinary outreach, remote critical care coverage, on-call services and rounding.

RoboDynamics released its first robotic telepresence platform MILO in October 2004. In 2008 the company introduced its new TiLR - Telepresence internet connected Low cost Robot.

Headthere is the latest provider of a new telepresence video conferencing robot, called Giraffe. The Giraffe is a mobile robot that can be moved around its location by remote control using the Internet.

Anybots has recently presented a new telepresence robot, called QA and designed to look like a human albeit on wheels. QA is a dynamically balancing humanoid robot on two wheels (Segway type), it stands 5 feet tall and has two 5-megapixel color cameras with ir illuminator situated on the neck and a 7 inch color LCD in its chest.

French Robosoft recently unveiled Robolab 10, a new telepresence robot to provide daily-life services to people staying at home, the disabled and the elderly.

French Meccano released its first Internet-controlled telepresence robot Spykee in 2007. Spykee is a mobile robot that can be controlled remotely as "video surveillance” and can also be used as a VOIP phone

U.S. iRobot, the market leader in mobile cleaning robots, who has sold 2.5 million Roombas — since the line was launched in 2002, released its first telepresence robot ConnectR in 2007. But it was recently terminated after one year trial. It was found that the robot was not yet practical enough to meet user expectations. iRobot announced it will continue its work on developing practical virtual visiting robots but the company has no timetable as to when a virtual visiting robot will be available for purchase.

Robot toy company WowWee released its first telepresence robot Rovio in early 2008. The robot represents a complete mobile telepresence pack including camera, microphone, and speaker. It’s WiFi enabled and provides audio and video streams via a web interface it serves up over the Internet. Rovio can be controlled over the internet and take advantage of some advanced navigational capabilities.

Telepresence robots in Japan

Robotic telepresence for monitoring and interaction with elderly people has been introduced in Japan in 1999 by Matsushita Electrics with the Tama conversation cat robot. In 2002 the company released a Teddy bear robot that was tested at the assisted living facility Sincere Kouriren outside Osaka.

In Japan telepresence robots have been demonstrated at the World Expo 2005. One was a prototype of a recursive projection technology for mutual tele-existence called TELEsar PHONE. The system was designed for a face-to-face tele-communication via robots. The Telesar PHONE is a robotic system that assists with remote communication tele-existence technology, a type of control technology that uses a communication network to enable a person to have a real-time sensation of being at a place other than where he or she actually is. The other type was a human like robot called Repliee Q1expo, developed by Hiroshi Ishiguro, director of the Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at Osaka University. His idea is to develop robots that are as similar as possible to a living human being and that can be used as physical avatar for remote telepresence.

In July 2008 robot company tmsuk released a prototype of the telerobotic shopper at the Izutsuya department store in the city of Kitakyushu, Japan. The modified TMSUK-4 humanoid robot incorporates a variety of cellphone communications technology and was demonstrated by japanese grandmother lady unable to go shopping with her granddaughter who sent the robot in her place. Using an NTT DoCoMo video-capable cellphone, the grandmother was able to control the robot and enjoy the shopping experience through the robot’s camera eyes.

Robot Suit for Farmers

Researchers at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology unveiled a robot suit prototype designed to help reduce the heavy burden of harvesting as the nation's farm industry faces an ageing, shrinking workforce. The wearable assistance machine is equipped with eight motors and 16 sensors and weights 25 kg. The suit is designed to assist elderly farmers who need support for their leg muscles and joints when they keep a crouching position or lift their arms high.
Ageing and skrinking workforce in farming and industry is serous problem in Japan and robotics will help elderly people to stay in working live longer.