The Thread—Helpful Robots?

Sheryl Burgstahler, Ph.D.

In this regular column, I share some of the messages from DO-IT's e-mentoring community so that you can get the flavor of the many rich conversations the DO-IT community has online. Forum posts may be edited for clarity and brevity.

One of the DO-IT Scholars recently posed the following question and received a wide spectrum of answers from our e-community.

If you could have a robot designed specifically to help you with your disability, what would you create and what features would the robot have?

DO-IT Scholar: If a robot could help me it would be nice. I'm all for having one built into a car so it can drive for me.

DO-IT Scholar: There are some things a robot can't do, like interact with people. For physically or sensually affected people, great. For Aspies, a robot might not be a good idea. I've already received too many comparisons to a robot.

DO-IT Ambassador: I've read the e-mails and somewhat disagree. Artificial intelligence researchers have been working on "context aware" algorithms and programs that can help to interpret some social situations. One example is have cell phones change to an appropriate ring type based on the environment. I don't think it's unreasonable to believe that there are some possible robots to help those with Asperger Syndrome.

DO-IT Scholar: If I could have a robot that would help me with Asperger's…

Well, see, having Asperger's means everyone ELSE is my "disability." So my robot would be ten times as big as Godzilla and have 32,000 flamethrowers and rocket launchers and big mega huge layzar-beamz.

DO-IT Scholar: A robot for a girl with Asperger syndrome? Well I'd use one to organize my notes for classes and make it transform into a decoy of me, but that's about it. The decoy is for when I don't want to deal with people.

DO-IT Scholar: A robot, hmmm…that's a good question. I need a minute to think about that one. I know! Sometimes neurotypicals (people who are psychologically "normal", for those who don't speak Aspie) have a tendency to have difficulty understanding what I'm trying to say, so my robot would make sure that everyone is able to understand my point of view.

DO-IT Ambassador: How about having a robot that would help a visually impaired person fill out paperwork? That would come in handy for filling out printed application forms. It would be especially helpful if that robot had a way of indicating where I needed to sign the form.

DO-IT Scholar: Nice one. Help sorting papers would be nice too. Sometimes I stack my papers after printing them but then I knock them on the floor or something and I don't know which way is up.

DO-IT Ambassador: Are wheelchairs a type of robot?

DO-IT Scholar: Yes. A robot that I thought of is a GPS wheelchair that drives itself and doesn't bump into things.

DO-IT Scholar: Are there really wheelchairs that can drive themselves and not bump into things?

DO-IT Scholar: Is it possible? Certainly. They already have the cars that beep when you get too close to something. They also already have GPS to tell you where to go in a car. Just combine the two in some way and it's definitely possible. That would be an interesting idea, trying to find someone or some company to actually make such a wheelchair.

DO-IT Ambassador: I did a quick IEEE search for published research articles on the subject and it returned numerous documents. If you're interested, I can send full papers, but here are a few titles:

  • Implementation of an obstacle avoidance support system using adaptive and learning schemes on electric wheelchairs
  • An assistive navigation system for wheelchairs based upon mobile robot obstacle avoidance
  • Semiautonomous wheelchair based on quarry of environmental information
  • Real-time obstacle detection for an autonomous wheelchair using stereoscopic cameras
  • Intelligent wheelchair moving among people based on their observations

There are many other related articles as well.