Assistive Robotics for Activities of Daily Living

Kavita Krishnaswamy


Many assistive robots for people with disabilities and seniors have been developed over the last decade; however, designers have not fully used these robotic technologies to fully create a fulfilling and independent living for people with disabilities, especially in relation to tasks of activities of daily living (ADLs). Assistive robotics can support healthcare needs in a future with an increasing shortage of nurses and the growing population of people with disabilities and elderly. Assistive robotics could allow individuals with varied abilities to live independently and safely in their own homes. They could serve to prevent individuals from feeling helpless when caregivers cannot provide timely support, reduce hospitalizations and healthcare costs, and increase their overall independence by maintaining sound physical health and improved quality of life.


The World Health Organization estimates that more than one billion people, about 15% of the world's population, have some form of disability and by 2020 there will be 2 billion people aged 60 or older. People with disabilities and seniors have difficulty finding caregivers and nurses to help complete ADL tasks related to ambulating, feeding, dressing, grooming, toileting, bathing, and transferring. When paid caregivers are unavailable due to time or financial resources, the burden often falls on family members who balance work, providing care for their loved ones, and taking care of their own health. Family caregivers often become overwhelmed and burn out.

Assistive robotics has immense potential to minimize the physical dependence of people with disabilities on their caregivers, improve their survival, and increase their quality of life. Likewise, assistive robotics can relieve and support caregivers in providing care. To be successful, assistive robotics must have accurate, human-quality visual perception and ensure safe physical robotic manipulation of a person’s body.

Existing assistive robots and concepts for assistive robot include the following:

  • Mobility Robots like the Lean Empowering Assistant (LEA) is a robotic walker built by Robot Care Systems to provide safety and stability to users with reduced mobility and the elderly. The force applied on the grips is coupled with the motor acceleration. The sensor technology on LEA allows localization with scanning of the environment for autonomous navigation and the ability to intelligently react to various conditions. For example, when an object is found on the floor that could be a tripping hazard, the walker will slow down for safety. This will greatly boost the quality of life for the users.
  • Transferring robots like the Robot for Interactive Body Assistance (RIBA)—developed by RIKEN-SRK Collaboration Center for Human-Interactive Robot Research and Sumitomo Riko Company in Japan—assists patients by lifting them out of their beds and wheelchairs and transferring them to new positions. RIBA looks friendly, hugging patients in the transferring process. However, it still requires a caregiver to provide navigational assistance.
  • Repositioning robots like the robotic bed called Autobed designed by Georgia Tech provides an accessible Web-based control of an electric bed. The instructions to build your own Autobed is available online so anybody with a hospital bed can use the web interface to control their bed.
  • Personal care robots like the Panasonic has demonstrated a robotic hair washing device that puts shampoo, hot water, and gently massages the scalp.
  • The feeding robot Obi is available in the market and has five depths of fields to scoop the food up and bring it to the user's mouth after training.


Krishnaswamy, K., Srinivas, M., & Oates, T. (2017). Survey data analysis for repositioning, transferring, and personal care robots. In proceedings from PETRA '17: International Conference on PErvasive Technologies Related to Assistive Environments. New York: ACM.

Jaffe, D., Nelson D., & Thiemer, J. (2012, February 2). ENGR110/20: Perspectives in assistive technology [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

HumAnS Lab. (n.d.). Assistive robotics. Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Retrieved from

Brose, S.W., Weber, D. J., Salatin, B. A., Grindle, G. G., Wang, H., Vazquez, J. J., & Cooper, R.A. (2010). The role of assistive robotics in the lives of persons with disability. American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 89(6), 509-521.​

Discussion Questions

  1. What other sorts of tasks could assistive robotics be involved in?
  2. How can we improve safety of assistive robotics?
  3. How can people with disabilities be involved in developing assistive robotics?