Caregiving robots may be transformative for people with disabilities and their caregivers, but few research groups are working in this area. A new robotic simulation platform developed by Cornell researchers may help more people enter the field.
Open source platform RCareWorld Provides realistic simulation of home caregiving scenarios by combining: accurate avatars representing people with motor impairments; homes with varying levels of modifications for accessibility; and caregiving robots. The simulator allows users to design new robotic caregiving scenarios and program existing robots to perform caregiving tasks, without expensive bots or human volunteers.
Rulin Ye, a doctoral student in the field of computer science, announced the platform in her presentation, “RCareWorld: A human-centered simulated world of caregiving robotsAt the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Robotics and Intelligent Systems, Oct.
The paper received the Best RoboCup Paper Award from the RoboCup Consortium, which hosts an annual competition for self-service robots in a home caregiving environment.
“There are a lot of barriers to entry,” he said. Tapomayukh BhattacharjeeAnn S. Powers, assistant professor of computer science at Cornell College of Computing and Information Sciences, who led the project. Bhattacharjee cites challenges in communicating with people with movement restrictions and other clinical stakeholders, the need for an institutional review board to approve studies involving close contact with humans, and the cost of robotics.
“You need continuous feedback from stakeholders — the recipients of care likely to use this technology, the caregivers and healthcare professionals — to see if the technology we develop translates from the lab into real homes one day,” he said.
Bhattacharjee manages the Impress Lab, one of the few labs designing robots that help deliver physical care, where the robot touches the person, such as feeding, bathing, or dressing. They are also working on solutions to deliver social care; Verbal support such as medication reminders or exercise instructions.
An estimated 190 million people worldwide suffer from conditions that impair their ability to move and function; Assistive robots have the potential to give these individuals more independence while reducing the burden on caregivers. But currently, caregiving robots are not widely available for home use. Through RCareWorld, Bhattacharjee’s team hopes to provide the basic tools needed to design and program these robots.
The simulator is the first of its kind, aiming to realistically simulate caregiving scenarios through six realistic human avatars that move and behave as people with mobility impairments, such as various levels of spinal cord injury, brain stem stroke or cerebral palsy. Each avatar has a specific range of motion and muscle strength based on clinical data collected from individuals with motor impairments. In future editions, the researchers plan to expand the number of disabilities represented.
RCareWorld also includes robots commonly used to conduct research in home settings; Researchers can also import their own robot models. In the simulator, roboticists can test algorithms for navigation, processing, and accessing data from multimodal sensors on robots. They can also use the virtual reality interface to enter the simulator and control both robots and human avatars.
Robots and avatars can interact in 16 different homes with more than 200 rooms. The homes have three levels of accessibility modifications, ranging from no modifications to completely barrier-free homes for people with disabilities, with assistive devices such as stair lifts, hospital beds, and patient lifts.
“We give people a variety of tools to come up with physical caregiving behaviors or social caregiving scenarios,” Bhattacharjee said.
Using algorithms learned in the simulator, one robot successfully performed a sponge bathing scenario in the real world; Other trained volunteers wear virtual reality glasses and gloves to perform an exercise routine.
The first version of RCareWorld will be free to use starting in early 2023; Bhattacharjee said he has already received interest from his colleagues.
Co-authors on the paper are Rajat Kumar Jinamani, PhD student in the field of computer science and Vy Nguyen ’23, along with Wenqiang Xu, Haoyuan Fu, and Cewu Lu from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and Catherine Dimitropolo from Columbia University.
Patricia Waldron is a writer at Cornell Ann S Powers College of Computing and Information Science.
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