2002 Conference Proceedings

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TELEREHABILITATION AND ROBOTICS: INTEGRATED SYSTEMS FOR CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES

Corinna E. Lathan, Ph. D.
AnthroTronix, Inc.
387 Technology Drive
College Park, Md. 20902
301-405-0156
lathan@anthrotonix.com 

Sharon M. Malley, Ed. D.
5612 2nd South
Arlington, VA 22204
703-575-7884
sharonmalley@mindspring.com

There are approximately 4.5 million children with disabilities, ages 3 to 14, nationwide (US Census Bureau, 2001). Nearly 660,000 school children in the US have impairments to neuromuscular or the skeletal system that impair their ability to engage fully in school or play with non-disabled peers (Christopher and Gans, 1998). Speech and language impairments, affecting 10% of all school children, including most children with severe disabilities, significantly impact abilities to read, write, and communicate (Smith, 2001).

For many people with disabilities, both children and adults, assistive technology has proven to be essential for daily living and rehabilitation, enabling them to obtain education, contribute to the workforce, and enjoy leisure activities. Without this technology, many individuals would not achieve highly valued human experiences of personal freedom and inclusion in society. However, much of the available technology continues to be cumbersome, not adaptable to users' changing environments, lacking in universal applicability, and costly (Williams, 2001, Feb. 28). Advances in bioengineering create the potential for greater access to assistive devices that meet rehabilitative and daily needs of a broader spectrum of society, addressing the current constraints in usability.

AnthroTronix, Inc, an engineering, consulting, and product development company in College Park, Md., is developing gestural interface technology and interactive robotics for rehabilitative and telerehabilitative application. The technology (JesterBot) uses a robot that appeals to children and is controlled by various interfaces adapted to individual needs, regardless of physical limitations. The robot imitates movements and speech, providing reinforcements and motivation for learning. It can be controlled by remote wireless sensors worn by the child, coupled with computer software designed to program a set of functions based on user needs. Thus, the system integrates and interfaces three technologies; human gestural sensing interactive robotics, educational/entertainment software algorithms, and a data retrieval system linked to the World Wide Web Internet.

With this system, children with disabilities will be able to increase abilities using a playful, therapeutic toy. The interactive web based software will address multiple applications for various disabilities. Thus, teachers, therapists, other healthcare professionals, and parents, will have access to systematic intervention tools that collect and assess information, recalibrate intervention programs, and provide interventions with natural reinforcements.

The web based software will be designed with various modules that, when integrated with the JesterBot will: 1) Provide comprehensive, easy to access information about the program to the user, 2) Assess the functioning level of the child, 3) Provide feedback to the therapist, 4) Respond and provide reinforcements to the child, 5) Record information about the child's progress, 6) Recalibrate the intervention as needed, 7) Accumulate a data base of outcomes that will support further research.

With the development of the software, refinement of the JesterBot, and subsequent marketing of the package, we will be able to address the needs of the 4.5 million children with disabilities nationwide, with a tool that is highly motivating and accurate. Currently, there are no known broad based products that can provide monitored and motivated therapy, education and play combined. Other possible applications for this integrated system include functional assistance in the workplace and functional maintenance for people who are aging.

References

Christopher, R. P., & Gans, B. M. (1998). Rehabilitation of the pediatric patient. In J. A. DeLisa and B. Gans (Eds.). Rehabilitation medicine: Principles and Practice, 3rd ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott-Raven.

Smith, D. D. (2001). Introduction to special education: Teaching in an age of opportunity. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

US Census Bureau (2001). 1997 Census Bureau Survey. Current population reports. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.

Williams, J. M. (2001, Feb. 28). A fairy godfather for people with cognitive disabilities. BusinessWeek Online. McGraw-Hill.


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