Northeastern U. Seniors Develop Robotic Feeding System Activated With Just a Glance

Northeastern U. Seniors Develop Robotic Feeding System Activated With Just a Glance

“There’s no right pace,” said Mohamed Kante, E’12, who worked with elderly and dis­abled patients at Kin­dred Tran­si­tional Care and and Reha­bil­i­ta­tion — Craw­ford in Fall River, Mass. No matter how fast or slow he and his col­leagues offered patients bites of food, they could never match the patients’ indi­vidual needs.

So Kante and five of his elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering class­mates decided to solve that problem with a senior cap­stone project that puts the con­trol in the patient’s hands, or — in this case — their eyes.

The under­grad­uate student-researchers won this year’s first-place award in the ECE cap­stone com­pe­ti­tion for devel­oping an eye-controlled robotic arm that allows patients to feed them­selves. “Once they have the ability to do it them­selves, there’s an enor­mous sense of freedom,” said James Barron, who devel­oped soft­ware for the project.

The cap­stone team included Nick Aquino, Barron, Kante, Ryan LaVoie, Pedro Lopes and Basel Mag­fory. Waleed Meleis, an asso­ciate pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Elec­trical and Com­puter Engi­neering, served as the group’s fac­ulty advisor.

The eye Con­trolled Robotic Arm Feeding Tech­nology, or iCRAFT, has the poten­tial “to give thou­sands of par­a­lyzed indi­vid­uals the inde­pen­dence to eat with min­imal help from a care­giver,” Meleis said.

Sim­ilar tech­nolo­gies exist, including the recently reported Brain­Gate implant, which allows patients to con­trol a robotic arm merely by thinking about it. But these require some kind of inva­sive — or even sur­gical — inter­face to con­nect the user’s desires with the robot’s behav­iors, Lopes said.

In this case, there is no phys­ical con­nec­tion between the user and the con­trol device — no joy­stick under their chin, for example. Instead, the patient needs only to look at a box on a com­puter screen.

The team devel­oped an eye-tracking soft­ware that cou­ples the direc­tion of a patient’s pupils with his or her food choices. Three col­ored seg­ments of the screen cor­re­spond to two bowls of food and a drinking bottle. A fourth, larger seg­ment allows the patient to take a break from eating.

Meleis said that the graph­ical user inter­face designed by the team is impres­sive because of its sim­plicity. The judges, 12 prac­ticing alumni engi­neers, “were par­tic­u­larly impressed with the impact iCRAFT will have on the target pop­u­la­tions and by the suc­cessful inte­gra­tion of eye tracking, robotics, a custom GUI and spe­cial­ized equip­ment,” he said.

“The single best moment of this cap­stone expe­ri­ence was the first time we were actu­ally able to con­trol the robot arm with nothing but our eyes,” Barron noted. “Once we were able to accom­plish this feat, I was con­fi­dent that every­thing else would fall into place.”

He was right. Aside from win­ning first place in the cap­stone com­pe­ti­tion, the team has devel­oped a tool that com­mu­nity mem­bers can use imme­di­ately with the appro­priate tech­nical know-how: The iCRAFT team has pub­lished the robotics plans online and the soft­ware package is avail­able as an open-source download.

Cur­rent alter­na­tive self-feeding devices cost in the range of $3,500, but iCRAFT can be con­structed for around $900, making the tech­nology a more afford­able option for dis­abled indi­vid­uals and their care­givers and families.

We love all the high-tech rehab robots being developed, but if we’d find ourselves paralyzed we’d prefer not to have to manipulate various parts of our mouth and face, or have electrodes implanted in our skull, to move a robotic arm to simply feed ourselves. With iCRAFT (eye Con­trolled Robotic Arm Feeding Tech­nology), a senior capstone project developed by students at Northeastern University, moving a robotic arm is as simple as moving your eyes.

With the iCRAFT system, there is absolutely no physical connection between the device and the user. All the user needs to do is look at one of four large, brightly-colored rectangles on a computer screen that corresponds to his or her food or drink choice. The eye-tracking camera near the monitor and the special software takes care of the rest, tracking the user’s pupil movements and activating a robot arm with attached eating accoutrement to scoop the food and bring it to the user’s mouth.

The simplicity of the system makes it an attractive solution for giving paralyzed patients more independence in eating with minimal help from a caregiver. Current self-feeding devices on the market cost around $3500, but iCRAFT can be constructed for just around $900. Best of all, the team has published the robotics plans online and has released the software as a free, open-source download so anyone can make their own iCRAFT system.

Here’s a video of iCRAFT in action serving these college seniors a gourmet college meal:

Source : http://www.northeastern.edu/news/2012/05/engineering-capstone-offers-independence-to-physically-disabled/

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