Henry Evans is a mute quadriplegic, having suffered a stroke when he was just 40 years old. Following extensive therapy, Henry regained the ability to move his head and use a finger, which allows him to operate computers. Last year, Henry caught a TV interview of Georgia Tech Professor Charlie Kemp showing research with the Willow Garage PR2 robot. Willow Garage and Professor Kemp were contacted by Henry shortly afterwards, and we have been collaborating since then.
We are currently exploring ways for Henry to use a PR2 robot as his surrogate. Every day, people take for granted the simple act of scratching an itch. In Henry's case, 2-3 times every hour of every day he gets an itch he can't scratch. With the aid of a PR2, Henry was able to scratch an itch for himself for the first time in 10 years.
While this is only a first step, it demonstrates how people with severe physical disabilities could use personal robots to gain independence. In another example, Henry recently used the PR2 to shave his cheek. We are actively researching ways for Henry and others to perform tasks like these on a daily basis.
Currently, Henry uses a head tracker to operate a variety of experimental user interfaces. These interfaces allow him to directly move the robot's body, including its arms and head. They also let him invoke autonomous actions, such as navigating in a room and reaching out to a location.
Robots that complement human abilities are extremely valuable, especially when they help us do things that we can't do by ourselves. Our goal is to get robots in homes to help people like Henry and Jane Evans. This is just the beginning.