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The Work of ART: Promoting Independent Living

Meet the Assistive Robotic Table – ART for short. This unassuming-looking device – a cross between a traditional nightstand found in most residential bedrooms and an over-the-bed table universally found in hospital rooms – is poised to become a key player in the future of robotic health care.

This unique “architectural robot” is designed to provide functionality to all age groups but is especially beneficial for the aging population, both those living independently and those in assisted-care facilities. It is also especially well-suited for use in a hospital setting for patients of all ages.

ART is not designed to do things for people; rather, it encourages people to do tasks for themselves while providing assistance when needed. ART rotates, raises and lowers to create easy access to personal effects, including medications, and can be moved to various positions (closer or further away from the bed) via remote control. This allows someone confined to a bed or with otherwise limited mobility to be able to easily access items stored in the lower drawers or on the opposite side of the table. The tray table can be extended automatically and can angle to hold a book or laptop computer in easy view.

Perhaps the most innovative aspect of ART is the ability to sense and learn users’ habits over time, then notify caregivers if there is deviation from normal behavior. For example, if you wear eyeglasses, at night when you take them off to sleep you would set them on an area on top of ART outfitted with a sensor. If they are not moved within a set period of time (i.e. the next morning, when you would be expected to be up and awake) ART would communicate via computer software with caregivers that something may be wrong. In hospital or assisted-care facilities, ART would greatly reduce the demands placed on already over-stressed caregivers while allowing more independence for the patients. In home settings, ART would enable first responders to quickly arrive at the scene even if the user was incapacitated and unable to call for help.

ART is being developed as a cooperative effort between professors and researchers from several disciplines at Clemson University in conjunction with Greenville Hospital System. Keith Green, professor of architecture at Clemson, first proposed the concept of ART and designed, drew and built the initial prototypes. He enlisted the help of Ian Walker from Clemson’s electrical and computer engineering department to assist in developing the software and robotics that will allow ART to move and interact with the user. Psychology assistant professor Johnell Brooks conducted research to determine the psychological and physical needs and wants of the target audience as well as usability testing. Stan Healy, administrator of the Roger C. Peace Rehabilitation Hospital of the Greenville Hospital System University Medical Center Campus provided space in the existing Home+ Lab facility for conducting the fundamental research of the hardware, sensing software and usability.

Researchers continue to refine and test the prototype and hope to have ART ready for mass manufacture by 2016. Find more information on this project online.

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