Robots to Dress Patients

Robots can do some things much better than human beings. Nonetheless, people who research robots continue to work on things that robots can’t do very well. One of those tasks is dressing people.

Robots wouldn’t be good at dressing themselves, either. Cloth is a huge problem for robots. It changes shape continually, in ways that robots can’t predict or even understand. Robots can watch many hours of videos of fabric without getting any grasp of the behavior of fabric.

And then there are the safety issues. People are squishy, which is another factor that makes it hard for robots to dress them, but it also makes humans vulnerable to damage by robots.

So why should they dress people?

The use case is in healthcare. More than 80% of nursing home residents and more than 90% of those with dementia need help getting dressed. This ends up being one of the most time-consuming care tasks.

There’s also an element of discomfort for many patients who need this kind of help. A robot’s help could be more emotionally neutral.

How’s it going?

Researchers at the Personal Robotics Laboratory at Imperial College London taught a robot to put a hospital gown on a mannequin. The mannequin, a stand-in for patients without use of their limbs, was placed on its back on a hospital bed. The researchers broke the task down into multiple steps, beginning with picking up one layer of cloth at a time.

Georgia Tech students figured out how to train a robot to put a hospital gown on a patient standing in front of it. It analyzed 11,000 examples to develop the skill. It only took one day.

MIT researchers found that helping a standing person on with a sleeveless shirt was much easier than shirts with sleeves, largely because robots can’t see the human arms while putting sleeves on them. They can’t see the elbow, in particular, and this affects their ability to judge the amount of force to use.  They helped robots estimate the space the elbow would probably inhabit. That allowed robots not to use excessive and possibly dangerous force.

Whatever robots learn to do — and dressing human beings would be pushing the envelope quite a bit — they will still need motion control. Rexroth produces some of the world’s best motion control systems, and we can help you keep your Rexroth automation systems in trim.

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