Authors: Dario, Paolo | Guglielmelli, Eugenio | Laschi, Cecilia | Teti, Giancarlo
The growing number of disabled and elderly citizens, on one side, and the wide spreading of technology in everyday life, on the other, has led to a consistent effort devoted to the research of technological solutions for improving the quality of life of disabled and elderly people. Technology can actually provide a wide range of solutions, at different levels of complexity and cost. The recent progress of research in advanced robotics allows robotic solutions to be applied to assist disabled and elderly people in everyday life. The MOVAID project, promoted by the European Commission within the TIDE programme,
…and co-ordinated by the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna (Pisa, Italy), represents one of the first attempts to propose robotic assistance in such a personal sphere of activities as everyday life at home. Ten partners from five European countries joined the MOVAID Consortium, including Universities, validation centres, and industries. The MOVAID project proposed, applied and validated some innovative concepts for the design and development of a modular robotic solution to the problem of personal assistance, by implementing a mobile robotic system and dedicated interfaces to standard appliances. The final objective of the MOVAID project was to demonstrate two points. First, how mass consumer technological products, when accessible for disabled and elderly people, can enhance their level of autonomy in everyday activities. Second, how a robotic solution is not only technically feasible, but also acceptable from the user's point of view, if integrated in a modular assistance system. The basic philosophy of the project relies on the concepts of design for all' and ‘user oriented approach’, as key factors for the introduction of technology in everyday activities. Such concepts were realised in the functional and physical distribution of the system in the house, including docking facilities for the mobile robotic unit. The MOVAID system consists of a number of fixed workstations (PCs), located where main activities are carried out at home, such as the kitchen and the bedroom, along with a mobile robotic unit able to navigate in the house avoiding unexpected obstacles, to grasp and manipulate common objects and to dock to the fixed workstations for data exchange and power supply. Commands to the robot are given in a high level language through a graphical interface running on the fixed workstations. On the user interface, a continuous visual feed-back from on-board cameras is also shown to the user, allowing him/her not only to monitor what the robot is doing, but also to collaborate with it, by indicating objects and positions directly on the screen. Moreover, to allow and ease access to standard technological products, interfaces for standard kitchen appliances were studied, and a prototype of a microwave oven interface, offering the oven basic functionality, was developed and tested. Typical tasks for the system, defined on the basis of identified users needs,are: to warm up some food in a microwave oven and serve it at the user's bed;to clean the kitchen work surface; and to remove dirty sheets from a bed. The developed prototype MOVAID system has been successfully validated withpotential users in Italy, France and Switzerland, both through demonstrationsand user trials, carried out in a residential house for disabled people inItaly. The paper summarises the project and its achievements. The basic philosophyand the approach are introduced and a detailed description of the system isthen provided, including the technical aspects related to the componentsdesign and development. Finally, the results of the validation phase on thesystem prototype are reported and discussed.
Keywords: disabled and elderly people, personal assistance, robotic assistance, personal robot, design for all, user-oriented approach
Citation: Technology and Disability,
vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 77-93, 1999
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