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Monday, December 1, 2008

Could robots replace service dogs or assistance animals?


"Waiting for laser command." El-E, a robot designed at the Center for Healthcare Robotics at Georgia Tech in Atlanta demonstrates picking up a box of Claritin after the user points to it with a laser.

This morning CNN reported on a new technology from the Center for Healthcare Robotics at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Georgia. It's a 5 foot tall gray metal robot called El-E (pronounced Ellie) and it's being designed to help assist with patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. See El-E in action.

The robot is able to drive itself around a room and has proximity sensors that allow it to navigate itself and it's arm around obstacles — and can be directed to pick up an object with a green laser pointer. For example, if the person using the robot wants an object off of a shelf such as a hairbrush or TV remote, they would point the laser pointer at the object and El-E would fetch it and bring it to the person. El-E can also open cabinet doors and drawers as well as room doors.

What's interesting is that after a short time people seem to begin to respond to the robot as a companion. CNN interviewed Norma Margeson, an artist living in Georgia who has ALS. "Oh, I love it," she said. "I think it is such a unique character. It has a personality all its own. It can be a friend, a very good friend." That may not be a coincidence because Charles Kemp, the director for the Center of Healthcare Robotics lead his team in studying assistance animals as part of the developmental research for El-E.

El-E is, of course, a long way from being available to the public. We don't think that a robot could ever replace the warmth and companionship of an animal, but it may be an additional tool to help people with mobility and motor impairments in the future.


4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm... Sounds neat but I'd rather have my SD Christine...

PwD-SD-Awareness said...

Although a robot maybe a good thing for home use but it will never be totally good out in public. Too many circuits that could have a meltdown and then one wouldn't be able to get it to move. Worse would be crossing a busy street.

So if this is for just home use I see it being OK but still not feasible as to the fact when going out in public one would still need a service animal to be more independent to do the same thing that this robot is being programmed to do. That would to me mean double money spent.

waltercflemming said...

I think this would be amazing if I could get one of these if I could even afford it My service dog helps a lot though she wasn't cheap either I suppose Thank you for posting this I really enjoy reading the articles

Elizabeth said...

I could never "trade in" my Emmy for a robot!! Emmy provides things a robot never could: the intangibles of love, true companionship, following sometimes imprecise voice commands, making me laugh, making my grandchildren laugh, making my husband smile - these things are of incredible value. Robots may be very helpful for some tasks. But not for others. They cannot and will not (at least for the foreseeable future) be as versatile as a service dog. They aren't snuggly. They can't go as many places.
I just can't see someone in his electric cart at the grocery with a robot trailing along beside or behind. Good grief.
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