Vol. 1, Issue 2 -- August, 1995

Robotics Feature Research

The Consumer Innovation Lab is part of the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Rehabilitation Robotics. This RERC is funded by a federal grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research to the University of Delaware. The RERC supports more than a dozen individual research projects. Each issue of The Innovator will present highlights from a different one of these activities.

(Vocational Robotics Project)

By Jill Schuyler

As part of the research at ASEL, we are evaluating the role that robotics can play in helping to expand employment opportunities for people who have difficulty grasping and moving objects. The purpose of the Vocational Robotics Project is to identify the components that are required to successfully implement a robotic device to assist an individual who possesses a manipulation disability with the performance of job tasks. Three areas of concern are being addressed in this work: assessment and training, system integration, and job identification and analysis.

The goal of the assessment and training component is to develop the necessary expertise to assess an individual's ability to operate the robot, and to train an individual to use the robot for job tasks. This effort is being carried out with the Easter Seal Rehabilitation Center of DelMar. Patty Hove, an occupational therapist from Easter Seals, has been trained within the Robotics Laboratory to program the robot. This work also included developing standard tasks, such as peg and mail sorting, to assess an individual's ability to operate the robot. Standard alternative computer access solutions are being implemented to address the needs of individuals with a wide range of disabilities. An assessment and training manual is being developed as a reference for other therapists who will eventually use this technology. The robot workstation is now at the Easter Seal Center and is currently being used with clients to master different input devices and will ultimately be used to assess individuals in a vocational work station.

The system integration component is concerned with identifying the hardware and software required to help the person do the job and combining these to work together as a complete system. A demonstration workstation has been developed at the ASEL Robotics Laboratory and is currently at the Easter Seal Center. The current set up consists of a personal computer with the necessary robotic software, a robot manipulator, some adaptive computer access tools, and the task components such as a mail sorter and envelopes.

The purpose of the job identification and analysis component of this project is to find new and existing jobs that have potential for the appropriate and successful use of a vocational robot. Also, an evaluation of typical job requirements is being performed to identify new and existing jobs that are appropriate for this application of technology. The purpose of this evaluation is to identify job areas that have previously been considered inaccessible, but may potentially become suitable job opportunities through a robotic vocational accommodation.

The emphasis in this project is on stimulating the development of appropriate expertise within the established vocational rehabilitation services. We have set up a meeting in October at Easter Seals to present the technologies currently being researched to vocational rehabilitation specialists. It is hoped that through this project, the appropriate application of robots in vocational settings will grow to be a viable method for enabling the employment of individuals with manipulation disabilities.

For more information, check out the Vocational Project Home Page.