Robots!

XII.2 March + April 2005
Page: 14
Digital Citation

CosmoBot levels the playing field for disabled children


Authors:
Corinna Lathan, Amy Brisben, Charlotte Safos

Most children with disabilities are engaged in some form of therapeutic rehabilitation and receive special education services. Therapists and educators spend much of their time trying to motivate children to perform therapy or participate in educational activities. Technology, specifically robotics, can level the playing field for therapists, educators, and children with disabilities.

CosmoBot™ and Mission Control™

The CosmoBot system has been designed to provide motivation for children to perform their therapies, thereby assisting therapists and educators to perform their tasks more effectively and efficiently. A primary objective, particularly for children with severe disabilities, is to encourage them to interact as much as possible with their environment. For this reason, the gestural interface technology is enhanced with a robot, designed to act as a child’s friend and companion. By motivating children to interact with a robot, professionals can focus on providing excellent care to these children. The system will also benefit parents and family members of children with disabilities to motivate children to learn while having fun.

The technologies have evolved into the CosmoBot system, centered around the CosmoBot robot. We designed CosmoBot to motivate children with and without disabilities to participate in activities that target developmental goals. CosmoBot is controlled through gestures and voice with the use of the Mission Control interface device and modular, gestural components that can be plugged into Mission Control.

Mission Control is the first hardware product developed by AnthroTronix, providing gestural and voice interfaces for a child to play with the CosmoBot robot and with software games. Mission Control is a child-friendly, fun computer interface system with four large pressure-sensing buttons and a microphone. Mission Control plugs directly into the USB port of a PC, and can be used to play any joystick, keyboard, or mouse-based game or use any switch-enabled software.

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Play and Learn Software

While playing with off-the-shelf software games and educational software is beneficial for some children, others become frustrated because the software is not directed to meet their particular needs. Therefore, AnthroTronix has created educational software to complement the physical robot, providing a fully interactive experience for any child. AnthroTronix has collaborated with Ingeeni Studios, Inc. to create the CosmoBot genie, an interactive virtual friend who is the focus of a variety of educational software games. Instead of simply clicking on an object on the screen to make something happen, as the child interacts more with the buttons on Mission Control, more feedback is provided on the screen! For example, the harder the child presses on the analog button, the higher CosmoBot flies.

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The User Audience

One lesson learned is that the many children who receive physical and occupational therapy services also need to work on their educational and speech/language goals. Since therapy and educational settings work with children in a holistic manner, the needs of these children and children with a wide variety of disabilities, can be met by expanding the scope of technology that motivates children to meet developmental goals. This widened scope leads to a greater target audience, resulting in a lower price point for the technologies. This change in scope is one of the many lessons the AnthroTronix design team has learned from end users: children with disabilities, their therapists, educators and parents who have been very helpful throughout the user-centered design, development, and testing process.

Another lesson that the AnthroTronix design team has learned from therapists and educators is that there is increased pressure to perform and confirm subjective results with detailed data collection. Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance require concrete data collection and analysis to assess improvement from therapy. The sweeping education policy No Child Left Behind requires that all students (including students with disabilities) be tested and assessed. Automatic data collection and assessment offers therapists and educators the needed information to satisfy these demands for objective outcome measurement. CosmoBot system software has been developed to automatically capture data and present the data in a variety of formats. Professionals are equipped with a graphical user interface (GUI) to select only that data necessary for analysis.

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Vision for the Future

After commercialization, the CosmoBot system will consist of CosmoBot, Mission Control, Virtual CosmoBot, and the Assessment Lite Progress-Tracking software. Each component can be used separately or in any combination. Each system component will be compatible with off-the-shelf software, switches, and sensors. The system will be available to schools, rehabilitation facilities, educators, clinicians, and the general public. Partnerships with existing product developers will enhance and strengthen the capabilities of the CosmoBot system. At AnthroTronix, we believe that children with disabilities should participate in inclusive education environments and that assistive technology is inclusive technology.

Authors

Dr. Corinna Lathan is founder, president, and CEO of AnthroTronix, Inc., a biomedical and human factors engineering product development company. Dr. Lathan is also an Adjunct Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park and a consultant to the National Rehabilitation Hospital (Washington, DC). In 2002, Dr. Lathan was named Maryland’s Top Innovator of the Year and one of MIT’s Technology Review’s Top 100 World Innovators under the age of 35.    clathan@atinc.com

Amy Brisben, Ph.D., P.E., has been working as a senior biomedical engineer at AnthroTronix for three years. She is the technical lead on the company’s rehabilitation projects and is the principal investigator on several small business grants. Ms. Brisben has over 12 years of biomedical research and development experience in small startup companies and academic research laboratories; over six years experience working for small companies; and over 14 years experience in experimental design, development, and evaluation with human and animal subjects.    abrisben@atinc.com

Charlotte Safos is responsible for the development and clinical management of rehabilitation-related activities and products at AnthroTronix, Inc. where she also oversees the administration of grants and contracts and manages activities related to marketing and community relations. Ms. Safos has over ten years experience in project management and development in the disability arena. Prior to joining AnthroTronix, she was a consultant to and staff member of United Cerebral Palsy Associations.    csafos@atinc.com

Sidebar: Product Development

AnthroTronix, Inc. is a research and development company in Silver Spring, Maryland. AnthroTronix is "spinning-out" a new company, AT KidSystems, to manufacture and distribute products developed under the R&D activities of AnthroTronix.

The first product AT KidSystems will produce is Mission Control(tm) packaged with Cosmo’s Play and Learn Software, to be released in the summer of 2005.

AnthroTronix designed Mission Control as a technology tool that is used to treat the "whole" child and promotes educational readiness skills, growth, and progress.

©2005 ACM  1072-5220/05/0300  $5.00

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