MIT Group Develops Robot That Can Help Elderly People Get Dressed

A group at MIT has created a robotic arm that can slide a vest onto a human arm, hoping to further the software to help dress a person entirely. This would be a tremendous help for the elderly or disabled.

The Interactive Robotics Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has created a robotic arm that can slide a vest onto a human arm. This is an early step in creating a robot that could completely dress an elderly or disabled person. 

Robots have been able to dress themselves for over a decade, but dressing someone else is more difficult. The robot has to guess the human’s next move and avoid hurting someone if it moves the wrong way.

“In this work, we focus on a planning technique,” Shen Li, a PhD candidate in the Interactive Robotics Group at MIT, told Fast Company. “Robots predict human motion, then design a plan that’s safe based upon the prediction. If I dress a kid or adult, they might have different reactions. So you have to predict what they’ll do.”

For humans, this prediction is an invisible process. Li and his team took a stock robot arm and put a 3D tracker on it that can see the movement of the person waiting to be dressed. The groundbreaking software can recognize someone’s position and consider what their next move may be. This allows the robot to help the human get dressed while avoiding injury.

“We’re not only predicting the most likely human movement, but the entire uncertain human set of the future,” said Li. He added that this is a conservative approach, so getting dressed could take some time. “After the robot is more certain about the human [it’s faster],” said Li.

The next steps of research include adding a full sleeve to the vest, and eventually developing the software to help pull on a second sleeve or a pair of paints.

Image source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology