In 2010, Henry Evans, left quadriplegic after a stroke-like attack, saw the PR2 robot on television and envisioned it as a transformative tool for his life. This led to collaboration with Georgia Tech and Willow Garage on the Robots for humanity project, whose objective is to improve the independence of people with disabilities. While the PR2 was a breakthrough, its practicality was limited due to its size, cost, and complexity. This prompted the development of a new robot, Stretch, by Charlie Kemp and Aaron Edsinger, co-founders of Hello Robot. Stretch was designed to be smaller, simpler and more affordable, making it more suitable for everyday use at home.
Stretch, priced at $20,000, is significantly more cost effective than the PR2. Its design focuses on simplicity and practicality, with a single arm with sufficient range of motion, a basic gripper, and sensing capabilities essential for obstacle avoidance and basic autonomous tasks. This minimalist approach not only makes Stretch affordable, but also makes it easier to use, especially for people with disabilities or who are unfamiliar with complex technologies. The robot’s design and functionality was shaped by real-world needs and feedback from users like Henry, ensuring its relevance and effectiveness.
One of the most significant impacts of Stretch is its ability to humanize patients, allowing them to interact more meaningfully with family and friends. For example, Henry Evans has used Stretch to perform various household tasks, play with his granddaughter, and even give his wife a rose, activities that were previously impossible due to his disability. These interactions, facilitated by Stretch, have not only improved his quality of life but have also reinstilled in him a sense of purpose and autonomy. The robot has become an extension of Henry himself, bridging the gap between his aspirations and his physical limitations.
However, Stretch has limitations. It can lift only about 2 kilograms and is not designed for climbing stairs or for outdoor use. It also requires significant technical intervention and is still in the stage of addressing autonomy, interfaces and reliability challenges. Despite these limitations, Stretch represents a hopeful step toward more accessible and practical robotic assistance for people with disabilities. Its potential to reduce dependence on caregivers and its impact on the lives of users highlight the transformative power of such technology. As assistive robots continue to evolve, their ability to improve the independence and quality of life of people with disabilities is expected to grow significantly.
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Fountain: IEEE Spectrum
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