Vol. 1, Issue 3 -- December-January, 1996

Consumer Lab Goes on the Road

by Jane Fee & Bob Piech

Early this Fall the Consumer Innovation Laboratory got to take its show on the road and contribute to a presentation on rehabilitation robotics research. This was all part of the third annual DATI conference on Assistive Technology held September 28 at the University of Delaware's Clayton Hall conference center in Newark, Delaware. The conference featured ten separate sessions, each addressing a different aspect of assistive technology such as funding issues and various home modifications for older people with disabilities. Our session on Robotics Research, which was presented by several staff from the robotics lab at the Applied Science and Engineering Laboratories (ASEL), dealt with work being done to develop new kinds of assistive devices.

In detail, the session provided an overview of existing robotic technology available for individuals with disabilities and included video demonstrations of some of the current research projects at the Applied Science Engineering Laboratories (ASEL). Specifically touched on were projects in educational and vocational settings where use of a robot to promote learning and perform manual job tasks are being studied. For the Consumer Innovation Laboratory's part, Jane Fee and Bob Piech spoke about how consumers with disabilities can provide vital and timely input on the practical design of assistive devices. This potential is being realized at ASEL through the partnership of consumers working with the engineering staff to develop new and useful devices. There were also progress reports on the three current design team projects. The background of each of these projects was discussed followed by their present status. Of the three design teams, the Auto-Vacuum was the one design project whose progress included demonstration of a prototype. At the end of the session the Auto-Vac was put to the "test" of vacuuming a few spots here and there on the carpet. Then after the demonstration, the session was opened to questions. A range of comments and questions went from "Why did you build it?", "How much does it cost?", to "This is great!", and "When can I get one?".

During the rest of the conference the Auto-Vac was at the exhibit booth of ASEL. There, interested people were able to see the Auto-Vac demonstrated and have a chance to try out the remote control joystick themselves. Almost everyone who tried it had favorable comments about it, including wishing to own one.

The crowning glory of our day in the sun was to be featured on the local TV evening news. WHYY, Channel 12, the local public television station was covering the conference. They saw the Auto-Vac demonstrated and decided to film it in action. The Auto-Vac segment was seen on television that same night, as they reported on the DATI conference.

Channel 12 news correspondent, Audrey Folitz, tries out the Auto-Vac.

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