Eating and drinking independently are difficult for persons with disabilities because of a range of issues such as weakened grip, loss of arm functions, tremor, etc. Low tech options lightweight thick handled cutlery for reduced strength or heavier handle utensils for persons with a tremor (i.e. ‘Liftware – Self-Stabilizing Eating Utensils’ posted on November 30, 2017). In addition to these low-tech utensils, many researchers have been developing and testing Robotic feeding aids: one is commercially available to public and other options may be still in research/development stage. I selected two among them in this blog.
Obi, which is available to public, offers a trial period and a lease with options to buy. You can use switches to operate and can program to adjust the feeding controls (Max Food Delivery Height 15.3” above mounting surface, Lowest Food Delivery Height – 2 “ below mounting surface and Reach up to 16” Food delivery reach. It weigh approx. 7.7 lbs. so it is possible to take it with you.
ADA, the Assistive Dextrous Arm, is a Kinova JACO robotic arm, which is a robot-assisted feeding (RAF) arm for people with upper-extremity impairments. It is mounted on a powered ROVI Mobility wheelchair with a wrist-mounted camera which holds a folk.
Robot assisted feeding systems have some challenges to solve. The following information was referenced from a technical paper, ‘Community-Centered Design Framework for Robot-Assisted Feeding Systems’, by the researchers of the University of Washington. For example, if a care-recipient cannot sit in a normal position, robot assisted feeding system will need to program and configure to adjust how foods can be delivered perfectly to the person’s mouth. Some users prefer smaller, compact size, sleek design and quiet. Robot needs to identify type of foods (i.e. soft banana vs apple) so that the spoon or fork can pick up the food. Food-intake safety criteria needs to be addressed such as detecting to avoid an accident of bouncing the utensil to the user or sending a notification to someone in case of an emergency (i.e. choking food). Some may prefer social interaction with their care-giver feeding meals vs. a robot feeding system. However, their research shows that the assisted feeding system helped independence among the tested group.