“If a child has a physical impairment and they can’t use their own hands to manipulate toys, they miss out on a lot of opportunities for growth,” said Kim Adams, a professor at the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine. “They don’t feel how they are affecting the environment.”
Adams is part of an interdisciplinary team composed of medical and engineering experts, who are recruiting subjects for a trial phase that will test out robotic equipment on children with disabilities.
In the laboratory, Adams points to a metal arm with an attached synthetic hand hovering over a tray of dry macaroni pasta. Sand wasn’t an option because it’s hard on robot gears, she explains with a laugh. With the press of a button, children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy will be able take control of the robot arm to pick up a cup and scoop the pasta.
It’s a typical exercise that isn’t possible for everyone.
“It has to do with cognition. Kids with disabilities might have cognitive impairments because they don’t have these experiences … robots can help improve their knowledge of things and exploring,” she said, adding that the robots can create the sense of force and resistance when children try to interact with objects.
Robotic technology offers people with disabilities a way to expand their horizons, but because families have to pay for these options privately, the dream of improved mobility is often out of reach, Adams said. State-of-the-art robotic arms can cost $ 15,000.
“That’s another battle,” she said, adding that once technology becomes mainstream, the market opens up to make more options available. Voice-recognition technology was first invented to help people with spinal cord injuries communicate, she said.
In the past, Adams has experimented with robots made from Lego, which has yielded promising results for only a few hundred dollars.