People have been predicting the use of robots in healthcare for decades, particularly in the healthcare sector. The world might not feel ready for robotic healthcare, but that won’t stop it from coming.
Robots can do many things that make healthcare more efficient. For example, there are inventions that can monitor and care for the sick and those with disabilities, and help them with basic life functions. Now, there’s a machine that can feed those who cannot feed themselves.
It’s called Obi, a robotic arm that limits the need of extra help during meal times for those with disabilities. It helps to restore a sense of dignity and give back some of the independence lost.
Obi looks a lot like an everyday kitchen appliance. It has an arm with two joints that lets it move easily and flexibly. On the base, there’s a four-cup plate where food items can be placed. Attached to the arm is a spoon that’s perfect for dishing food into the user’s mouth.
“Every day, millions of people must be fed by caregivers, and they find the experience to be conspicuous and frustrating,” Jon Dekar, inventor of Obi told Robotics Trends. “Feeding oneself is a basic human need, and there was no good solution available. I became inspired to change that.”
It’s incredibly easy to use with a two-button interface—one for picking up food and the other for controlling the spoon. These buttons make it easy for the user to customize the product in order to meet different heights and needs.
The device isn’t made just for those without the full function of their arms and hands. According to the makers, Obi can be a good dining robot companion for anyone with disabilities. “Currently as it stands, Obi can be operated by anyone able to move a muscle on their body or make a sound,” they say. “Obi uses off-the-shelf accessibility switches, such as Sip n Puff straws, to command the choose and delivery functionality. Therefore, individuals who are fully quadriplegic can operate Obi.”
Dekar came up with the original design in 2006 and has been working on it ever since. Dekar says he’s invested about 15,000 hours into the design and feels he’s finally perfected it.
Regarding the usefulness of the invention, Dekar told Digital Trends, “There aren’t a lot of useful robots — aside from maybe the Roomba vacuum — that people currently use on a regular basis for a daily need that truly impacts their life in a meaningful way. In a large part, they are really expensive industrial manipulator robots, hobbyist-type devices, or toys. We think Obi is one of the first really well-designed robotic devices intended to impact the daily routine of the end customer.”
But Obi won’t be priced beyond the typical user’s reach. It’s fairly affordable at $4,500 and comes with two interchangeable spoons, a placemat, a customized plate, and the charging cable. That $4k price tag might seem high to some, but when you consider the cost of hospice care, it’s a low price option.
The company is currently crowdfunding for the production of the robot, targeting those who have family and friends with disabilities.
“It’s just not an enjoyable experience to have someone feed you, either for the person who’s eating or the person doing the feeding,” David Hare, a year-long Obi diner living with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also told Robotics Trends. “I can’t describe how much more fun meals are now, both for me and my wife, who has long helped me eat. I know people are passionate about their cell phones and laptops, but it’s nothing compared to the excitement I feel about my Obi. Getting it was literally a life-changing experience.”