Robotic Mobility For The Little Ones

Researchers at the University of Delaware are helping disabled kids by designing robot transportation for them. Exploring one’s environment is an important part of early development. Disabilities that limit mobility can prevent young children from experiencing this. Typically children are not offered a powered wheelchair until they are five or six years old, but adding intelligent technologies, like those found in the UD1, makes this possible at a much younger age. Proximity sensors all around the drive unit of the robot add obstacle avoidance and ensure safety when used around other children. When confronted with an obstacle the UD1 will stop, or navigate around it. The unit is controlled by a joystick in front of the rider but it can also be overridden remotely by a teacher, parent, or caregiver.

[via Robot Gossip]

20 thoughts on “Robotic Mobility For The Little Ones

  1. My first thought was ‘It’s a Dalek’ :)

    Seriously, though, it sounds like a great idea, however as Ronald mentioned, that joystick si a bit of a concern. Not sure what to replace it with, though…

  2. @Radiowave: ditto the Dalek.

    As for replacing the joystick, depending upon the individual disability, you could put the kid in a toddler roll-around type base that responds to tilt; the kid just leans in the direction he needs to go.

  3. Umm.. I can see the need for a sensor to prevent someone from going over a cliff, but being able to avoid obstacles is a fairly important skill with mostly minor repercussions for failure that we probably should let children experience on their own. This seems like a case of engineers solving a problem that doesn’t exist unless of course you just plan to keep your kid restrained in the bot and have it set to follow you around the mall (so you don’t have to, you know, actually do any parenting). In that case, it could be quite helpful.

  4. I’m a father of a young child and thankfully I do not have to be concerned with him having limited mobility, but I can imagine. This project could help tremendously with the gap in the early development of these kids with limited mobility. They cannot crawl around, walk around, run around… that is so important for their little brains during their early development. The ability for these kids to move around will help them more than you can imagine.

    As far as the joystick problem goes (poking their eye out)… this is an early prototype guys; things like that will be resolved. Heck, it is probably not even close enough for them to fall onto anyways. For those who have kids at that age, you know you strap them into EVERYTHING you put them into.. a harness would completely solve that issue and it would be normal for the child anyways.

    As far as the worry of falling off a cliff… or driving off into the road… or anything else you can imagine… you still have to be a parent. My kid is relatively normal (as much as any engineer’s kid can be :) but I would still have to watch him like a hawk anywhere near those kinds of obstacles.. he could fall off a cliff or run out in to the road with his two little feet; he doesn’t need a robot to accomplish that!

  5. When I see this prototype the first thing that comes to mind is that the online community should try to get involved. We have a plethora of experienced engineers, robotics experts, and hackers out there that just love to collaborate on community projects. What better project to collaborate on than something that can benefit our kids in such a way. If you think you have something to contribute to this project, contact Neil at the University of Delaware.. his contact info is on the site link in the article. Read what they have posted.. send him your ideas. You never know what little tidbit you have that you think is simply common sense that the designers of this thing didn’t think of yet. Let’s use our collective brain power for something really useful and beneficial.

  6. parental control you say? does anyone else see real-world mario kart races with babies? :D

    this is really cool by the way. maybe some kind of authentication could be used so that only the child could control it and it wouldn’t respond to other inputs? i can imagine some bully 4 and 5 year olds jumping on board and wanting to drive it around. especially since it’s more car than wheelchair. RFID wrist band maybe?

  7. @Radiowave: ditto the Dalek.


    as to the bully part, give the kid a defend buton that fires flamethrowers and toasts little bully jhonny. If you wipe out the bully kids early on, society benefits as a whole.

  8. What would be really helpful is an IV pump/pole that automatically follows the little ones around. I have worked in paeds for years and this is a real problem especially for kiddies getting chemo or TPN who are on a pump 24 hours a day. Some serious safety issues to be resolved first of course…

  9. “Providing important technical support to the project is Ji-Chul Ryu, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering with expertise in the planning and control of mobile robots.”

    Apparently he wasn’t that important, since he was Mr.X camera hog until the second last paragraph..hehe..

  10. Technological devices are important to help all patients, but specially those with disabilities. The safety of the technological devices needs to be address prior to their release to the public. The robotic transport is an example of a great technological device that is safe and helps children with disabilities explore their environment at an early age. Safe ways in which technology can help children with disabilites should be explored further. Patients and caregivers should be educated on the proper use of the technological devices to ensure their proper and safe use. As technology continues to advance more attention should be pay to creating devices that increase mobility of children with disabilities.

  11. It is great invention that meshes technology, medicine, and takes into account the importance of human development. The report on the unit mentioned why it was constructed in the first place which is to aid the child in its development and made mention on safety which is of utmost importance. However, it would be fantastic if there were studies available in reference how much more exactly would their lives be enriched by such devices. Besides the basics of providing a handicap child with mobility at a younger age I think such device would provide additional uses. Such uses perhaps that may be implemented is monitoring of vital signs as oxygen saturation and heart rate that would be helpful in cystic fibrosis patients. On the other hand, it would be valuable to know to the price of such unit. Knowing the monetary value and the extent that it aids a child develop would assist a person or government to know if such a device is worth purchasing. I know some people may think and say something along the lines that a child’s development cannot be named or priced but if employment of the device doesn’t make a big difference and turns out to be super expensive then yes price should be taken into account.

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