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Babies Driving Robots at University
Date:11/9/2007

rs to providing power mobility must be insurmountable. In fact, the primary barrier is safety." Therapists and parents fear a young child in a power wheelchair might mistakenly go the wrong way, end up in a roadway and get hit by a car.

"This is, of course, understandable, and is the same fear that every parent with a newly walking infant faces. It is the solution to the safety problem that is the real barrier. The current clinical practice is to avoid power mobility until the child can follow adult commands," Galloway said. "Your parents didn't wait until you followed their every command before they let you walk - they held your hand, they required you to stay near them, and alerted you to obstacles in your way. This is the way infants learn real world navigation, and it is exactly these safety features that are being built into our mobile robot."

"Our first prototype, affectionately called UD1, was designed with smart technology that addresses each of these safety issues so that infants have the opportunity to be a part of the real world environment," Agrawal said.

The tiny robot is ringed with sensors that can determine the obstacle-free roaming space, and will either allow infants to bump obstacles or will take control from the infant and drive around the obstacle itself. The next prototype, UD2, will build on the current technology to provide additional control to a parent, teacher or other supervising adult.

"In this way, we can bind technology and human need together to remove barriers for movement in the environment," Agrawal said.

Galloway said no one had ever tried using robots with babies - early experiments show that seven-month-olds can learn to operate the simple joystick controls - and he is passionate about the possible benefits to children with special needs of even younger ages.

"Infants with limited mobility play in one location while their peers or siblings go off on distant adventures all over the room o
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SOURCE University of Delaware
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