bots IN BRIEF
THE EYES HAVE IT
A Northeastern University team has recently developed an
Eye-Controlled Robotic Arm Feeding Technology that can be
manipulated by vision. The iCraft was designed for the disabled
or elderly to aid them while eating. By looking toward the
desired food, the robotic arm will take over. The prototype was
built for approx. $900, and the team has released open source
software for those who would like to build their own.
There’s no right pace,” said Mohamed Kante, who worked
with elderly and disabled patients at Kindred Transitional Care
and Rehabilitation in Fall River, MA. No matter how fast or
slow he and his colleagues offered patients bites of food, they
could never match the patient’s individual needs.
So, Kante and five of his electrical and computer
engineering classmates decided to solve that problem with a
senior Capstone project that puts the control in the patient’s
hands, or in this case, their eyes.
The undergraduate student researchers won this year’s
first place award in the ECE Capstone Competition for
developing this eye-controlled robotic arm that allows patients
to feed themselves. “Once they have the ability to do it themselves, there’s an enormous sense of freedom,” said James Barron,
who developed software for the project.
The Capstone team included Nick Aquino, Barron, Kante, Ryan LaVoie, Pedro Lopes, and Basel Magfory. Waleed Meleis, an
associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering,
served as the group’s faculty advisor.
iCRAFT has the potential “to give thousands of paralyzed individuals the
independence to eat with minimal help from a caregiver,” Meleis said.
Similar technologies exist — including the recently reported BrainGate
implant which allows patients to control a robotic arm merely by thinking about
it — but these require some kind of invasive (or even surgical) interface to
connect the user’s desires with the robot’s behaviors, Lopes explained.
In this case, there is no physical connection between the user and the
control device — no joystick under their chin, for example. Instead, the patient
needs only to look at a box on a computer screen.
The team developed an eye-tracking software that couples the direction of a patient’s pupils with his or her food choices.
Three colored segments of the screen correspond to two bowls of food and a drinking bottle. A fourth, larger segment allows
the patient to take a break from eating.
Meleis commented that the graphical user interface designed by the team is impressive because of its simplicity. The judges
( 12 practicing alumni engineers) “were particularly impressed with the impact iCRAFT will have on the target populations and
by the successful integration of eye tracking, robotics, a custom GUI, and specialized equipment,” he said.
“The single best moment of this Capstone experience was the first time we were actually able to control the robot arm
with nothing but our eyes,” Barron noted. “Once we were able to accomplish this feat, I was confident that everything else
would fall into place.”
He was right. Aside from winning first place in the Capstone Competition, the team has developed a tool that community
members can use immediately with the appropriate technical know-how. The iCRAFT team has published the robotics plans
online and the software package is available as an open source download as mentioned previously.
Current alternative self-feeding devices cost in the range of $3,500, but iCRAFT can be constructed for much less, making
the technology a more affordable option for disabled individuals and their caregivers and families.
iCRAFT (eye Controlled Robotic Arm Feeding Technology) won first place
in ECE Capstone Design Competition 2012. Pictured are teammates
Ryan LaVoie, James Barron, Pedro Lopes, Nick Aquino, Basel Magfory,
Mohammed Kante and advisor electrical and computer engineering
professor Waleed Meleis. Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.
22 SERVO 08.2012