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Monday, 31 October 2016 02:00

A Robotic Feeding Arm Gives Back Independence At Meal Times

The endless capacity of the human mind is moulding modern technology to empower those with disabilities and lessen the impact it has on their daily lives. 
 
The latest development changing lives is an eating aid that gives back, to people who were previously unable to feed themselves, the dignity of doing so again. 
 
Consumer robotics team Desin have created Obi, an appliance that would look good in any kitchen, except it helps with food consumption rather than preparation. Anyone with a condition such as Alzheimer’s, cerebral palsy, MS, Parkinson's as well as any brain or spinal injuries can now eat without the help of someone else, at just the touch of a button.

Obi consists of four separate bowls, an arm and a spoon. Once a caregiver has served the food into the four bowls, users are able to move the arm between the bowls with one button, and then with the push of another button, the spoon is dipped into the food and brought to the person’s mouth. 
 
User friendly in so many ways

What about those who have no use of their hands, or lack the fine motor skills to push a button? Obi can be modified with big ‘Buddy Buttons’ which are brightly coloured and sit on the table next to the diner or they can be placed on the floor and used in a similar way to a foot pedal. For people with no use of their limbs, a specially designed pillow reacts to a very light pressure for head or cheek activation, or a mouth piece can be triggered with an inhale or blow action. 
 
Obi deciphers where to spoon the food into a person’s mouth by being manually positioned by the caregiver while in teach mode. The arm is placed at a point just in front of the mouth and then remembers that movement, until a new position is set. Accidents are avoided with Obi’s collision detection. 
 
Obi runs on batteries that can last up to four hours of eating time with each charge, and is dishwasher, microwave and freezer friendly. 

Currently Obi’s price tag is a little heavy at US$4 500. Hopefully, as demand increases, the developers can find a cheaper way to manufacturer Obi which will help countless people with financial constraints mostly due to their disabilities, but are desperately in need of all the help that they can get.

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