June 20, 2010
June 20, 2010
June 23, 2010
Computers in Education
15.217.1 - 15.217.13
Assistive Robotics Competition RoboWaiter: A New Approach to Integrating Robotics and Socially Responsible Education
This paper reports on RoboWaiter—the first robot competition in the rapidly growing area of assistive robotics—that was conducted in conjunction with the annual international Trinity College Fire-Fighting Home Robot Contest in 2009. Organized with active participation of members of the Connecticut Council on Developmental Disabilities, RoboWaiter’s overarching goals were to promote awareness of the needs of persons with disabilities while providing an engineering challenge to designers of all levels of skill within an atmosphere of friendly, team- based competition. An additional goal was to encourage students to think about responsibilities of engineers to society. In this paper we describe the RoboWaiter 2009 assignment and the associated engineering challenge, and we present results of our educational studies. We also discuss the potential of the RoboWaiter competition for developing and demonstrating assistive robotics technologies, providing a fruitful environment for robotics and opportunities for socially responsible education.
Need for Assistance
According to the Bureau of Industry and Security, U.S. Department of Commerce, more than 17% of Americans have a disability, and half of that cohort has a severe disability. The number of persons with severe disabilities is increasing and will continue to grow as the population ages . Many persons with disabilities benefit from an assistive technology device, an “item, piece of equipment, product or system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities. “. In a 2005 survey by the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, 64% of respondents used some assistive technology. The most frequently used were devices that enhance mobility (canes, crutches, walkers, scooters and wheelchairs), hearing aids, and oxygen tanks. Most respondents who used AT said it made them more productive and more aware of their rights . The U.S. Bureau of Commerce report points out that there is an active, and rapidly growing, assistive technology industry that manufactures more than 17,000 products, and employed over 20,000 workers . Still, according to the Assistive Technology Industry Association, the number of people currently using assistive technology is only a fraction of those who could benefit from it . Thus it is appropriate to raise awareness among engineering students about the needs of those people and to encourage them to solve associated design problems.
Recent attention has focused on the use of robots as assistive agents. Such robots help people with disabilities through physical or social interaction and include rehabilitation robots, wheelchair robots and other mobility aides, companion robots, manipulator arms, and educational robots. An example of an assistive robot is a robot at Georgia Tech that helps persons with disabilities to carry out everyday activities . The robot can fetch objects and open
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