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Eating robots improve quality of life and save resources

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01 December 2012



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60% of EU citizens are saying that robots should be banned when it comes to the care of children, elderly people and people with disabilities, according to the Special Eurobarometer survey “Public attitudes towards robots”. Meanwhile different nursing homes, assisted living facilities and municipalities in Europe are currently discovering, testing, and buying new robotic technology to improve independence and quality of support services for elderly people. A new evaluation report “Eating robot for citizens with physical handicaps” compiled by Danish Technological Institute (DTI) reveals positive results when using self-feeding robots.

Credit: DTI, eating robots
Credit: Neater
Credit: Intech, Won-Kyung Song, Jongbae Kim

From January 2011 to May 2012, the Danish National Board of Social Services, the Danish Center for Assistive Technology and supplier Jadea conducted a DKR 4 million project, evaluated by DTI Robot Technology, where two different self-feeding machines, Neater Eater Manuel (NEM) and Neater Eater Electric (NEE), were tested for 36 citizens with physical disabilities. The aim of the project has been to make individuals with arm and leg disabilities, who have been fed during meals, completely or partially independent by use of the self-feeding machines. With this project, the machines have not only reduced the need for personal assistance and support when feeding, but the citizens have also gained in life quality, independence, and freedom.

Saves man-years
DTI estimates that 16 minutes and 44 seconds of staff assistance are saved per meal, when an eating assistance machine is used. It is calculated that the payback time typically is 95 days with the NEM model and 206 days with the NEE model, and that the annual resource reduction for national implementation in the actual target group is 317 man-years. With a professional, competent visitation of the self-feeding technology, the machines can profitably be used by a wide group of people with physical disabilities, create improved life quality, independence, and freedom for the individuals besides the fact that the technology saves resources.

Based on the positive effects identified, DTI comes to the conclusion that a lot more citizens could benefit from using self-feeding machines, for instance children with disabilities in arms and hands who are ready to eat by themselves, as well as physically challenged individuals with sclerosis, muscular dystrophy etc. living at home. If the machines are not only used at the residences but also at drop-in centers and nursing homes, more resident satisfaction and saved manpower are to be found.

New Korean eating robot
A new and more advanced eating robot has been developed at the Korea National Rehabilitation Research Institute and Korea National Rehabilitation Center capable of handling Korean food, including sticky rice. Users are people with physical disabilities who have limited arm function. During the development of the robot, the researchers considered the feedback provided by several users and experts. In addition, the user candidates tested the actual self-feeding robot. It was determined that the input device has the most important role. Many users prefer a dual joystick for self-feeding. Most of the users who participated in the experiments gave positive feedback and some users were impressed that they were able to eat their desired food when they wanted to eat it. In future work, several functions will be added to the robot, including improving the reliability of basic operations and adding a safety feature.



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Wolfgang Heller





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