2001 Conference Proceedings
Go to previous
Go to next article
Return to 2001 Table of Contents
THE DEVELOPMENT OF HANDY 1, A ROBOTIC SYSTEM TO ASSIST THE
Mike Topping, BA Cert. Ed.;
Jane Smith, BA Hons.
Stoke on Trent, UK
The Handy 1 is a rehabilitation robot designed [fig. 1] to enable
people with severe disability to gain/regain independence in
important daily living activities such as: eating, drinking,
washing, shaving, teeth cleaning and applying make-up.
Fig.1 The Handy 1 system Changing age structures, resulting in
increased numbers of people with special needs are making ever
greater demands on the community of care workers. Dependency upon
care staff, particularly in public institutions, where volume
dictates the level of personal attention, can have a significant
effect on the well being and quality of life of the
The introduction of systems such as Handy 1 will encourage
greater personal activity, leading to an increased level of
independence. The impact of the Handy 1 on the community of care
workers will also be significant helping to reduce the amount of
stress present in situations where care workers assist disabled
people on a one-to-one basis .
User Control Characteristics of Handy 1
A scanning system of lights designed into the tray section
(fig.2) of Handy 1 allows the user to select food from any part
of the dish. Briefly, once the system is powered up and food
arranged in the walled columns of the food dish, a series of
seven has been lights begin to scan from left to right behind the
food dish. The user then simply waits for the light to scan
behind the column of food that he/she wants to eat, and then
presses the single switch which sets the Handy 1 in motion. The
robot then proceeds onto the selected section of the dish and
scoops up a spoonful of the chosen food and presents it at the
users mouth position. The user may then remove the food at
his/her own speed, and by pressing the single switch again, the
process can be repeated until the dish is empty. The onboard
computer keeps track of where food has been selected from the
dish and automatically controls the scanning system to bypass
Fig 2 Handy 1 Eating tray section During the early Handy 1
trials, it emerged that although the Handy 1 enabled users to
enjoy a meal independently, however the majority stated that they
would also like to enjoy a drink with their meal. Thus the design
of Handy 1 was revised to incorporate a cup attachment
(fig.3), . The cup is selected by activating the single
switch when the eighth LED on the tray section is illuminated.
Fig. 3 The cup attachment
Handy 1 food dish
A new plastic dish was developed in 1995 with seven integral
walls. The dish dramatically improved the scooping performance of
the robot with even the most difficult of foods such as crisps,
sweets, biscuits etc. The reason for this improvement was due to
the inclusion of the walled columns which ensured that the food
could not escape when the spoon scooped into it. This resulted in
a significant improvement. We carried out a comparison study to
compare the new dish with the previous unwalled dish. 22 foods
were used in the study selected from 5 groups, 'vegetables',
'meals', 'desserts', 'junk foods' and 'fruits'. The study showed
that the Handy 1 performed more successfully with food of all
types when used in conjunction with the new walled dish.
Improvements to the robots scooping performance were observed
particularly with some food types such as peas, where the
successful pickup rate rose from 34% to 73% .
Current Development Programs
The Washing, Shaving and Teeth Cleaning System
The Handy 1 self care system which is designed integrally to
include the washing, shaving and teeth cleaning attachments
enables people with little or no useful arm or hand movement to
achieve independence in these important personal daily living
Fig.4 Washing, Shaving and Teeth Cleaning Tray The Handy 1 self
care system's human machine interface is based upon the well
proven Handy 1 eating and drinking protocol, i.e. a single switch
input used in conjujction with a scanning control methodology.
Using this practical device, users are able to instruct Handy 1
to pick up a sponge, move it into the bowl of water, remove
excess liquid, apply soap and bring it to the face position,
rinse their face and dry it using a warm air dry option to
complete the task. The system is fitted with an electric shaver,
toothbrush and drinking cup. All can be picked up and manipulated
by the user in any order. For example, once chosen the shaver or
toothbrush can be moved by the user to any part of the face or
mouth to allow shaving or dental hygiene to be performed in an
efficient manner , .
Handy 1 Make up Tray Based on positive feedback from a
questionnaire sent to one hundred ladies with motor neurone
disease who stated that the activity they most wished to regain
was applying their own cosmetics. In many cases the ladies
commented that carers were unable to apply their makeup exactly
to their taste and subsequently this resulted in a feeling of
frustration and loss of self esteem.
Work commenced on a Handy makeup attachment designed to enable
ladies to choose from a range of different cosmetics including
blusher, foundation, eye shadows and lipsticks. A prototype
system was completed in 1996 and successfully trialled with a
number of ladies with motor neurone disease (fig.5). Briefly the
system works as follows, when Handy 1 is powered up a series of
lights adjacent to each of the cosmetic types begin to scan, one
after another, the concept being that when the light is lit
adjacent to the cosmetic that is required, the user simply
activates the single switch. At this point the Handy 1 selects
the correct brush or applicator and applies the correct amount of
blusher, foundation, lipstick, eye shadow etc. Once the make-up
has been applied to the applicator it is then taken by the robot
to the appropriate face position where the user is able to apply
the make-up .
Fig. 5 Handy 1 Make up Tray
Leisure Type Activities
Based on a questionnaire study conducted at a UK Motor Neurone
Disease Association Annual General Meeting we are currently
developing a range of leisure type applications.
We discovered that many of the disabled people interviewed spent
several hours each day in an intellectually inactive state, often
left to watch the television for long periods while carers dealt
with other important tasks such as cleaning and shopping. The
study highlighted conclusively the current lack of appropriate
leisure type solutions for disabled people.
As a result a pre-prototype 'Artbox' was produced which is
compact and easy to operate. The prototype was mounted on an
adjustable stand to facilitate its use with children or adults
sitting in chairs of different heights.
Briefly the system can be described as follows: around a
conventional shaped artists pallet were placed eight different
coloured felt tip pens which were housed in special holders (fig
6). An LED was positioned alongside each holder to facilitate any
colour pen being chosen and picked up. On each of the four edges
of the drawing paper an LED was positioned in order to allow
directional control of the pens once they were in position on the
paper. Also on the pallet were three further LEDs labelled 'up',
'down' and 'new pen'. Their function when selected was to lower
and lift the pen from the drawing paper and to enable a new
colour pen to be chosen. Users were able to draw by activating
the single switch when the LED adjacent to the pen colour they
wished to choose was lit .
Fig. 6 A Young Child using the Artbox Pre-prototype The 'Artbox'
prototype was tested in schools for physically disabled children
and it provided a pleasant but powerful means for children with
special needs to gain and consolidate their skills of spatial and
three-dimensional awareness. As part of their education able
bodied children are encouraged from an early age to develop and
exercise their skills of distance judging, creation and spatial
awareness. Due to their physical disabilities, children with
special needs quite often do not receive this same level of
Importantly, the Handy Artbox enabled the children who piloted
the study to draw directly onto paper, therefore helping to
develop judgement and improve their three-dimensional awareness.
Overall there was a high level of user and teacher satisfaction
with the Artbox and it was concluded that the system could have
the potential of being a useful educational aid for children with
However, several areas for possiblte improvement were
highlighted, users often felt frustrated by the time delay
encountered with the linear scanning lights and this resulted in
rejection of the system by several of the more able children who
took part in the study. Also, the viewing angle of the drawing
board proved difficult for some of the more severely disabled
children to see .
A second prototype is now under construction which will address
in more detail the human machine requirements for this particular
application based on the important feedback gained from the pilot
The necessity for a system such as Handy 1 is increasing daily,
the changing age structure in Europe means that a greater number
of people with special needs are being cared for by ever fewer
able bodied people.
The simplicity and multi-functionality of Handy 1 has heightened
its appeal to all disability groups and also their carers. The
system provides people with special needs a greater autonomy,
enabling them to enhance their chances of integration into a
- Topping M J (1995) Handy 1 a Robotic Aid to Independence.
Special Issue of Technology & Disability on Robotics.
Published by Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd.
- Topping M J (1995) The Development of Handy 1 a Robotic Aid
to Independence for the Severely Disabled. Proceedings of the IEE
Colloquium "Mechatronic Aids for the Disabled" University of
Dundee. 17 May 1995. pp2/1-2/6. Digest No: 1995/107.
- Topping M J (1996) 'Handy 1" A Robotic Aid to Independence
for the Severely Disabled. Published in Institution of Mechanical
Engineers. 19 June 1996.
- Smith J, Topping M J, (1997) Study to Determine the main
Factors Leading to the overall success of the Handy 1 Robotic
System. ICORR'97 International Conference on Rehabilitation
Robotics, Hosted by the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering,
Bath University, pp147 - 150.
- Topping M J, Smith J, Makin J (1996) A Study to Compare the
Food Scooping Performance of the 'Handy 1' Robotic Aid to Eating,
using Two Different Dish Designs. Proceedings of the IMACS
International Conference on Computational Engineering in Systems
Applications CESA 96, Lille, France, 9-12 July 1996.
- M Topping (1998) Development of RAIL (Robotic Aid to
Independent Living) IX World Congress of The International
Society For Prosthetics and Orthotics. June 28 - July 3, 1998,
- Topping M J, Helmut H, Bolmsjo G, (1997) An overview of the
BIOMED 2 RAIL (Robotic Aid to Independent Living) project.
ICORR'97 International Conference on Rehabilitation Robotics,
14-15 April 1997, Hosted by the Bath Institute of Medical
Engineering, Bath University, UK. pp 23 - 26.
- Topping M J (1996) A Robotic Makeover Published in the
Brushwork Magazine by Airstream Communications Ltd., West
- Topping M J, Smith J (1996) Case study of the Introduction of
a Robotic Aid to Drawing into a School for Physically Handicapped
Children. Published in the Journal of Occupational Therapists.
Vol. 59 No. 12 pp565-569.
We gratefully acknowledge the support of The European Commission,
Directorate General X11, Science, Research and Development Life
Sciences and Technologies for their valuable support of the RAIL
(Robotic Aid to independent Living) Project.
We also gratefully acknowledge the support from the Sir Jules
Thorn Charitable Trust for their support of the pilot work on the
Go to previous
Go to next article
Return to 2001 Table of Contents
Return to Table of
Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.