Rehabilitation Robotics Newsletter
The Handy 1 Rehabilitation Robot from Rehab Robotics Ltd.
Rehab Robotics Ltd., UK
Handy 1 is the world's first commercially available robotic aid to independence
capable of assisting the severely disabled with everyday tasks such as eating,
drinking, shaving, teeth cleaning, putting on make-up, grooming, painting
and drawing, and playing games.
Work began on developing the robot as an aid to eating in 1988 at Keele
University. The first system was developed specifically to enable a 12 year
old boy with cerebral palsy to eat unaided. This project went on to build
around 40 prototype aids to eating which were used by people with severe
disability on a full time basis. The disability groups that successfully
used these initial units were cerebral palsy, motor neurone disease, stroke,
accident, multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy. The age range was between
3 and 86 years. The Handy 1 project was transferred to Staffordshire University
and The North Staffordshire Health Authority in 1992 where development work
is still very actively taking place.
The system as an aid to eating became commercially available in 1992 when
Rehab Robotics Ltd. was formed. The company operates from the Science Park
at Keele University. To date and including the research models in excess
of 100 Handy 1 robotic systems are being used in the UK and Europe and serviced
by Rehab Robotics Ltd.
How the Handy 1 is controlled
Handy 1 is designed to look attractive and to be simple to use, even by
the most severely disabled person. The interface between the robot and the
disabled user is a single switch and this is the only part of the system
that may be different for each individual person.
Handy 1 comes with a "Handy Single Switch" fitted to its casing
via a length of flexible gooseneck tubing. In this form the robot can be
easily set up so that it can be operated by almost any part of the body.
In the majority of cases, this switching arrangement has proved successful,
allowing access to a wide range of different disability groups.
Making a choice of which food to eat
The choice of which food is to be picked up from the dish is made via a
scanning LED indicator strip which is fitted into the robot tray section.
Handy 1 allows up to a maximum of seven different types of food to be placed
onto the dish and selected. The pace at which the meal is taken is also
under the direct control of the person using the system. Many of our clients
have commented that the robot is more patient with them than a human carer,
allowing them time to enjoy their meal at a pace they control themselves.
The choice of food is placed onto the purposely designed ceramic dish which
is supplied with the system. If a hot meal is served, then the heated tray
section can be switched on to keep the food at an even temperature.
Once the food has been set out, the LED indicator strip positioned behind
the dish begins to scan from left to right along the length of the dish.
The user then simply waits for the LED to be lit behind the section of food
they want to eat. Then they activate their single switch and the robot proceeds
onto the dish, scoops up a spoonful of that food and brings it back to a
pre-set mouth position which is chosen and easily changed by the user. At
this point, the user then takes the food from the spoon. The next press
of the single switch removes the spoon from in front of the mouth to a rest
position and the LED's begin to scan again to allow a further choice from
the dish. The robot's computer system is logging where the robot has taken
food from the dish and will not return to an area where food has already
been taken from.
Over the past 7 years, we have observed that if used on a regular basis,
Handy 1 can help certain disability groups to either regain lost control
or develop new physical movements. Handy 1 is a robot and robots are very
consistent in their movements. We have found this to be important for people
with disabilities. No matter how skilled a caregiver is in terms of feeding
people with disabilities, they will find it impossible to constantly bring
each spoonful of food back to an exact mouth position. In many cases, people
being fed by human carers will have poor control of their body and head
movements. Therefore, they will have a tendency without realizing it to
move out of the midline during a meal. What happens quite often is that
the caregiver will follow the disabled person with the spoon. This results
in the disabled person receiving food from a poor eating position.
Handy 1 is patient and consistent in its approach and delivery. The system
requires that the user is in the correct eating position before the food
is removed from the spoon. The head must be in the midline, the tongue replaced
into the mouth and the lips used to remove the food from the spoon.
In many cases, for the first time in their lives, the people using the system
are actually eating by themselves in correct positions, understanding how
to take food from a spoon themselves, as opposed to having the food put
into their mouths and doing nothing for themselves.
Handy 1 uses its purposely designed flat bottomed robot spoon to maximize
scooping and minimize spillage. We have found that the flat shape of the
spoon is ideal for people who have poor lip closure. Conventional bevel
shaped spoons make it difficult for disabled people with poor lip closure
to take food successfully. The flat robot spoon allows the lips to meet
and therefore makes it much easier for the food to be removed cleanly.
Currently the Handy 1 is commercially available as an aid to eating and
drinking. However, several new attachments for the system have been developed
in conjunction with Staffordshire University and are at present being tested
in the field. These new attachments include: (1) a Shaver - battery powered
and made to be picked up and manipulated around the face (2) a Teeth Cleaner
- again, a battery powered brush that can be picked up and moved around
the mouth to clean upper and lower teeth (3) a Make-up Applicator - this
attachment was specifically requested by ladies with motor neurone disease.
It allows the person to choose from a range of cosmetics including powder,
lipstick, foundation, cream, etc. which can then be put onto the relevant
brush or pad by the robot and brought to the face.
A robotic compendium of games allows the disabled client to play and interact
with other severely disabled people via 2 switches or to play an able bodied
opponent via a single switch. Several leisure time activities are being
tested including the Handy Art and Paintbox.
In conclusion, we have shown that rehabilitation robotics has a unique and
important role to play in the rehabilitation and care of many groups of
The setting up of Rehab Robotics Ltd. has been necessary, and the specialist
role it plays in ensuring that the systems are placed and looked after correctly
is vitally important.
We are excited at the future potential for the Handy 1 robot and confident
that we can go further and explore many new areas for the robot to assist
For more information, contact:
Rehab Robotics Ltd.
Keele University, Science Park
Keele, Staffordshire ST5 5BG
Phone: 0782 712774
Fax: 0782 713230
The Project Showcase is a regular feature of the newsletter in which
a selected project or program is spotlighted. If you are interested in having
your project showcased, contact Tariq
Rahman or Julia Mercier at
URL of this document: http://www.asel.udel.edu/
Last updated: October 24, 1996
Copyright © Applied Science and Engineering Laboratories, 1996.