Collaboration between the Mathematical Informatics and System Control Laboratories at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology (NAIST) in Japan has created the first robot system that helps with dressing. It was modeled in cooperation with Barrett Technology, developers of WAM, a robotic arm with advanced independent capabilities and the ability to mimic human movement.
The objectives of NAIST are to conduct cutting-edge research and train students to become top scientists in the information science, biological sciences, and materials science fields. It is the highest-ranking university in Japan for education and scientific research.
The group at NAIST considered the complexity of creating a robot that would have to acquire the skills involved in putting clothing on the unique shape of the human body with the changes in posture required for dressing. It would also need to adapt to limited movement in the limbs due to aging or disability.
In addition, the “hands” of the robot would need to have the intricate movement abilities of the human hands and fingers. The ability to grasp a non-rigid object like clothing and then move the hand in such a way that it is able to duplicate dressing a human had to be carefully considered. NAIST and Barrett Technology had both presented prototypes with hand dexterity that operated by reproducing human finger manipulation by sensors programmed and operated with computers.
NAIST scientists finally came up with a dual-armed robot that “learned” to dress by imitating motions demonstrated by researchers with programmed coordinates on a computer that represent the topology of the human body. With repeated experimentation, the robot was able to put on both a T-shirt and a pair of pants on a mannequin.
The current prototype, the first robot of its kind, can help to put a T-shirt on a mannequin in about 10 seconds. Cameras to help perform the task surround the robot. The institute will continue to work on its development and say that they expect it will be greatly improved in the next couple of years.
The development is very significant in that robot technology is being researched to improve quality of life issues. The future looks bright in this area. However, in reality, there is no practical application at this time. Until they are perfected, usable in an effective way, sold on the market and covered by insurance or reasonably priced, there is nobody that currently benefits from the research. We hope it will become all of those things at some point and the population that robots are being developed for will actually have the chance to use them.