WAM Arm Robots Help Patients Get Dressed

Japan's Nara Institute of Science and Technology has created the world's first robot system that can help clothe elderly and physically disabled people. Barrett's contact-compliant robot arms follow the motions of a human caregiver; reinforcement learning takes only minutes.

(WAM Arm Robots Help)

Taking clothes on and off are essential activities in daily life, but for elderly and physically challenged people this can be difficult due to limited mobility in the upper limbs. At the same time, there is a key technical problem. Specifically, it's difficult to calculate the optimal robot motions for manipulating a soft, floppy material like clothing, while in contact with a person of unique shape and constantly changing posture.

In response, the group headed by Associate Professor Tomohiro Shibata developed a dual-arm robot system that can acquire clothing-assistance motions applicable with a small number of trials. This is accomplished by performing a trial-and-error search called "reinforcement learning" based on actual motions used for clothing assistance as demonstrated by a human being.

I was really struck by this comparison of human (organic biological systems) and robots:

According to the team's leader, Associate Professor Tomohiro Shibata of the Mathematical Informatics Laboratory, "Barrett's robots are unique in the world for their ability to react to subtle physical interactions, enabling our algorithms to learn to dress people." Barrett CEO Bill Townsend adds, "We are very impressed that Dr. Shibata's team has accomplished such a complex task. It takes an infant more than 10,000 hours of learning to master the motor skills of dressing. With this new application, robotic arms can learn to dress people in just minutes."

Philip K. Dick anticipated this development in his 1953 story The Impossible Planet, which featured the robant:

Behind Norton came a withered old woman. Beside her moved a gleaming robant, a towering robot servant, supporting her with his arm. The robant and the tiny old woman entered the control room slowly...

From Marketwire via Medgadget; see also the Barrett WAM robot site.

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