People with certain disabilities might find even the most mundane of tasks, like dressing oneself, to be difficult. Of course, having someone there to help would be ideal, but since that isn’t always possible, researchers at MIT CSAIL have come up with a potential solution, and that is to create a robot that can help with tasks like that.
The idea of a robot helping someone dress doesn’t seem too complicated, but it is. This is because when a person helps another person put on a piece of clothing, they know how to hold it and how to make adjustments so that the other person can wear it. With robots, one of the problems in the past was the “freezing robot” problem in which a robot stops what it was programmed to do because they ran into a hurdle.
To solve this problem, one of the researchers on the team, Shen Li, developed an algorithm to redefine robot motion safety by allowing what they call “safe impacts”. According to Li, “Developing algorithms to prevent physical harm without unnecessarily impacting the task efficiency is a critical challenge. By allowing robots to make non-harmful impact with humans, our method can find efficient robot trajectories to dress the human with a safety guarantee.”
It is clear that so far what’s been developed shows a fair amount of promise, but it could be a while before we start seeing it become mainstream, if at all. However, the concept does seem to suggest that aside from helping people dress themselves, it could be used in other areas where robotic assistance is warranted.