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Home arrow Computer Science arrow Robotic Assistive Technologies: Principles and Practice

What to Expect from the ARM: What Should It Do?

As we have seen from our definition of an ARM, it should be capable of grasping and handling objects (cf. Figure 3.3). This ability is fundamental

End user with ARM picking up remote controller

Figure 3.3 End user with ARM picking up remote controller.

Drinking examples with different ARMs

Figure 3.4 Drinking examples with different ARMs: (a) drinking water with the JACO robot and (b) drinking coffee with the z'ARM robot.

to perform activities of daily living (ADLs). Some typical ADLs (as illustrated in Figure 3.4) are as follows:

  • • Bathing and showering;
  • • Dressing;
  • • Self-feeding and -drinking (dehydration is a huge risk when being alone without someone to help);
  • • Performing personal hygiene and care (including combing hair, brushing teeth);
  • • Performing toilet hygiene (getting to the toilet, cleaning oneself, and getting back up);
  • • Doing housework;
  • • Preparing meals;
  • • Shopping; and
  • • Using the telephone or other form of communication.

Because we have defined our potential end users as typical persons with a drive to be as independent as possible, we need ARMs that are able to assist in the majority of the ADL tasks and be able to help with at least eating and drinking.

Also, an ARM can help a person perform work-related tasks. Typical examples are light office work (e.g., taking a file from a cabinet, taking paper out of the printer, opening/closing doors, starting a computer, or picking something off the floor). The last category to consider is recreational or socially related activities (e.g., painting, playing games, going to a pub, photography, bird watching). Table 3.2 provides an overview of ICF categories and activities that can be accomplished with the use of an ARM by people with severe physical disabilities (Gelderblom et al. 2004).

To be able to assist a person in the activities mentioned, ARMs should satisfy a number of technical requirements. These are considered in the following list:

  • 1. Lifting capabilities: Lifting a person out of bed requires more lifting capabilities of an ARM compared to lifting a glass of water.
  • 2. Accuracy: Putting a USB stick into a computer requires more accuracy of the ARM compared to pressing a button to call for the elevator.
  • 3. Speed: Throwing a ball to play with your dog requires different speed and acceleration profiles than putting food in your mouth.
  • 4. Gripper: Picking up a football requires a different gripper than picking up a mobile phone.
  • 5. Number of grippers: For some tasks, it is more convenient to have two hands, such as opening a bottle. For other tasks, one hand is enough, such as opening a door.
  • 6. Complex tasks: Consider the ADL task of undressing. Now, try the following: You sit on a chair and use just one arm and one hand to undress. Did you succeed? How long did it take you? As you most likely experienced, undressing can be considered a complex task, especially when you cannot move any part of your body to help. Toileting is even more complex: You have the combination of (partially) undressing and

TABLE 3.2 ADL and ICF Combined for ARM Users


ICF Category

ICF Description

Supported by Commercially Available ARMs



communication devices and techniques

Using devices, techniques, and other means for the purposes of communicating, such as calling a friend on the telephone



Lifting and carrying objects

Raising an object or taking something from one place to another, such as when lifting a cup or carrying a child from one room to another

Yes, for small objects only.


Fine hand use

Performing the coordinated actions of handling objects, picking up, manipulating, and releasing them using one’s hand, fingers, and thumb, such as required to lift coins off a table or turn a dial or knob



Hand and arm use

Performing the coordinated actions required to move objects or to manipulate them by using hands and arms, such as when turning door handles or throwing or catching an object

To some extent. Throwing and catching is not possible.


Caring for body parts

Looking after those parts of the body, such as skin, face, teeth, scalp, nails, and genitals, that require more than washing and drying

To some extent. For some activities, special tools are required. For example, shaving is only safe with an electric razor.



Carrying out the coordinated actions and tasks of putting on and taking off clothes and footwear in sequence and in keeping with climatic and social conditions, such as by putting on, adjusting, and removing shirts, skirts, blouses, pants, undergarments, saris, kimono, tights, hats, gloves, coats, shoes, boots, sandals, and slippers


(Continued )

TABLE 3.2 (CONTINUED) ADL and ICF Combined for ARM Users


ICF Category

ICF Description

Supported by Commercially Available ARMs



Carrying out the coordinated tasks and actions of eating food that has been served: bringing it to the mouth and consuming it in culturally acceptable ways, cutting or breaking food into pieces, opening bottles and cans, using eating implements, having meals, feasting or dining

To some extent. Eating is possible; opening bottles and cans is hardly possible.



Taking hold of a drink, bringing it to the mouth, and consuming the drink in culturally acceptable ways; mixing, stirring, and pouring liquids for drinking; opening bottles and cans; drinking through a straw or drinking running water, such as from a tap or a spring; feeding from the breast

Yes: drinking is possible; opening bottles and cans is hardly possible.


Acquisition of goods and services

Selecting, procuring, and transporting all goods and services required for daily living, such as selecting, procuring, transporting, and storing food, drink, clothing, cleaning materials, fuel, household items, utensils, cooking ware, domestic appliances and tools; procuring utilities and other household services

Yes, for small items only.


Preparing meals

Planning, organizing, cooking, and serving simple and complex meals for oneself and others, such as by making a menu, selecting edible food and drink, getting together ingredients for preparing meals, cooking with heat and preparing cold foods and drinks, and serving the food

Preparation can be done. Cooking with heat is

considered too dangerous.

(Continued )

TABLE 3.2 (CONTINUED) ADL and ICF Combined for ARM Users


ICF Category

ICF Description

Supported by Commercially Available ARMs




Managing a household by cleaning the house, washing clothes, using household appliances, storing food and disposing of garbage, such as by sweeping, mopping, washing counters, walls, and other surfaces; collecting and disposing of household garbage; tidying rooms, closets, and drawers; collecting, washing, drying, folding, and ironing clothes; cleaning footwear; using brooms, brushes, and vacuum cleaners; using washing machines, dryers, and irons

Only a subset of relatively simple tasks like collecting and disposing of household garbage; tidying rooms; collecting, washing, drying clothes; using washing machines, dryers.


Caring for household objects

Maintaining and repairing household and other personal objects, including house and contents, clothes, vehicles and assistive devices, and caring for plants and animals, such as painting or wallpapering rooms, fixing furniture, repairing plumbing, ensuring the proper working order of vehicles, watering plants, grooming and feeding pets and domestic animals

Only a subset, such as watering plants, grooming and feeding pets and domestic animals.


Assisting others

Assisting household members and others with their learning, communicating, self-care, or movement within the house or outside; being concerned about the well-being of household members and others


transferring from wheelchair to toilet. What does this require from our robot? Consider all the complex movements in combination with the lifting capabilities.

7. Environment: When the ARM is mounted to a powered wheelchair, the ARM could be not only inside the house but also outside in hot summer or cold winter conditions, in the rain or on a sandy beach. What should we consider as normal conditions?

8. Weight and dimensions: Given the required ADL tasks, what requirements do we have with respect to weight of the robot and length of the arm? Most industrial robots weigh from tens to hundreds of kilograms. Usually, they have huge control cabinets. These are impractical for mounting to a wheelchair. The weight of an ARM should be as low as possible. The dimensions of the ARM should be chosen in such a way that the ARM is as compact as possible, but still allows the end user to grab something from the floor or to take something out of a cabinet. These weight and length constraints also provide direction in terms of material selection and design.

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