2001 Conference Proceedings

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Mike Topping, BA Cert. Ed.;
Jane Smith, BA Hons.
Staffordshire University
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 individual.

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 [1].

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 empty areas.

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)[3], [5]. 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% [5].

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 activities (fig.4).

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 [6], [7].

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 [8].

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[9].

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 [9].

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 opportunity.

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 severe disability.

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 [9].

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 study.


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 'normal' environment.


  1. Topping M J (1995) Handy 1 a Robotic Aid to Independence. Special Issue of Technology & Disability on Robotics. Published by Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd.
  2. 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.
  3. Topping M J (1996) 'Handy 1" A Robotic Aid to Independence for the Severely Disabled. Published in Institution of Mechanical Engineers. 19 June 1996.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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, Amsterdam
  7. 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.
  8. Topping M J (1996) A Robotic Makeover Published in the Brushwork Magazine by Airstream Communications Ltd., West Sussex.
  9. 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 Artbox project

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