Robotic arm's big flaw: Patients say it's 'too easy'

Sep 23, 2010
Bob Melia, a quadriplegic who advised the UCF team, says the new technology will make life easier for thousands of people who are so dependent on others because of physical limitations. Credit: Jason Greene, UCF

One touch directs a robotic arm to grab objects in a new computer program designed to give people in wheelchairs more independence.

University of Central Florida researchers thought the ease of the using the program's automatic mode would be a huge hit. But they were wrong - many participants in a pilot study didn't like it because it was "too easy."

Most participants preferred the manual mode, which requires them to think several steps ahead and either physically type in instructions or verbally direct the arm with a series of precise commands. They favored the manual mode even though they did not perform tasks as well with it.

"We focused so much on getting the technology right," said Assistant Professor Aman Behal. "We didn't expect this."

John Bricout, Behal's collaborator and the associate dean for Research and Community Outreach at the University of Texas at Arlington School of Social Work, said the study demonstrates how people want to be engaged -- but not overwhelmed -- by technology. The psychology theory of Flow describes this need to have a balance between challenge and capacity in life.

"If we're too challenged, we get angry and frustrated. But if we aren't challenged enough, we get bored," said Bricout, who has conducted extensive research on adapting technology for users with disabilities. "We all experience that. People with disabilities are no different."

The computer program is based on how the human eye sees. A touch screen, , joystick or sends the arm into action. Then sensors mounted on the arm see an object, gather information and relay it to the computer, which completes the calculations necessary to move the arm and retrieve the object.

Behal is seeking grants to translate the study's findings into a smoother "hybrid" mode that is more interactive and challenging for users and features a more accurate . Laser, ultrasound and infrared technology coupled with an adaptive interface will help him achieve his goals.

The key is to design technology that can be individualized with ease, Behal said. Some patients will have more mobility than others, and they may prefer a design closer to the manual mode. Though the automatic mode wasn't popular in the pilot study, it may be the best option for patients with more advanced disease and less mobility.

Bob Melia, a quadriplegic who advised the UCF team, says the new technology will make life easier for thousands of people who are so dependent on others because of physical limitations.

"You have no idea what it is like to want to do something as simple as scratching your nose and have to rely on someone else to do it for you," Melia said. "I see this device as someday giving people more freedom to do a lot more things, from getting their own bowl of cereal in the morning to scratching their nose anytime they want."

Explore further: Four questions about missing Malaysian plane answered

Related Stories

'Welfare robots' to ease burden in greying Japan

Jul 29, 2010

Robotic wheelchairs, mechanical arms and humanoid waiters are among the cutting-edge inventions on show at a robotics fair in Japan, a country whose population is ageing rapidly.

Robots could improve everyday life, do chores

Sep 21, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- They're mundane, yet daunting tasks: Tidying a messy room. Assembling a bookshelf from a kit of parts. Fetching a hairbrush for someone who can't do it herself. What if a robot could do it ...

Woman outfitted with robotic arm

Sep 14, 2006

The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago has fitted a woman who lost her arm in a motorcycle accident with a robotic replacement.

Recommended for you

Four questions about missing Malaysian plane answered

15 hours ago

Travelers at Asian airports have asked questions about the March 8 disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Here are some of them, followed by answers.

Under some LED bulbs whites aren't 'whiter than white'

Apr 18, 2014

For years, companies have been adding whiteners to laundry detergent, paints, plastics, paper and fabrics to make whites look "whiter than white," but now, with a switch away from incandescent and fluorescent lighting, different ...

Freight train industry to miss safety deadline

Apr 16, 2014

The U.S. freight railroad industry says only one-fifth of its track will be equipped with mandatory safety technology to prevent most collisions and derailments by the deadline set by Congress.

User comments : 6

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

danman5000
5 / 5 (1) Sep 23, 2010
I'm not sure I understand why they would want this experience to be challenging. I'm fine with the ease of operating my own arms, and I don't really feel it would be advantageous to "think several steps ahead" or verbally command my body to do things. Wouldn't patients want to return to such natural and easy movement that their real arms used to offer?
Skeptic_Heretic
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 23, 2010
Sometimes when the command setup is too easy, it becomes rather rigid and removes a lot of the flexibility that you and I are accustomed to.
pauljpease
4 / 5 (1) Sep 23, 2010
@danman,

I think there's a difference between controlling your own arm, effortlessly, on a millisecond timescale feedback loop, and issuing a verbal command and then waiting, without any input into the process, while your command is executed. They probably get bored because there is a lag...
Auxon
5 / 5 (1) Sep 23, 2010
I'm not sure I understand why they would want this experience to be challenging. I'm fine with the ease of operating my own arms, and I don't really feel it would be advantageous to "think several steps ahead" or verbally command my body to do things. Wouldn't patients want to return to such natural and easy movement that their real arms used to offer?


I think part of the problem is that the person wants to feel like they are the ones doing it ... and regaining some independence. However, if it's too easy, then it's just like having someone else do everything for you, and you don't get that feeling of independence, but instead are dependent on a machine, which in many ways is worse than feeling dependent on another human being.
plasticpower
4.5 / 5 (2) Sep 24, 2010
This is, btw, how an octopus controls it tentacles. It sends high-level commands to them, which the tentacles execute. Each tentacle has its own little "brain" so to say that takes commands from the main brain. A bit off topic, but interesting nonetheless.
Yellowdart
not rated yet Sep 24, 2010
Big Bang Theory season premier, anyone? Beat this article to the punch...

More news stories

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

A homemade solar lamp for developing countries

(Phys.org) —The solar lamp developed by the start-up LEDsafari is a more effective, safer, and less expensive form of illumination than the traditional oil lamp currently used by more than one billion people ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...