According to a census data in 2010, roughly a million adults in the US need someone to assist them in eating. However, such assistance can be awkward and an uncomfortable task. Now, researchers at the University of Washington are developing a robotic system that can make it easier for these individuals.
Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a robotic system that can feed people who need someone to help them eat. Here, a volunteer demonstrates how the system works.
Credit: Eric Johnson/University of Washington
"Being dependent on a caregiver to feed every bite every day takes away a person's sense of independence," said corresponding author Siddhartha Srinivasa, the Boeing Endowed Professor in the UW's Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. "Our goal with this project is to give people a bit more control over their lives."
The study was published in a series of paper in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters and describes a robot that can strategically use a fork to pick up and deliver the desired portion of food to a person's mouth.
The study originated from the need to develop an autonomous feeding system that can be placed on wheelchairs and feed people whatever they wanted to eat at any time. "When we started the project we realized: There are so many ways that people can eat a piece of food depending on its size, shape or consistency. How do we start?" said co-author Tapomayukh Bhattacharjee, a postdoctoral research associate in the Allen School. "So we set up an experiment to see how humans eat common foods like grapes and carrots. People seemed to use different strategies not just based on the size and shape of the food but also how hard or soft it is. But do we actually need to do that? We decided to do an experiment with the robot where we had it skewer food until the fork reached a certain depth inside, regardless of the type of food."
Source: University of Washington