Move over, Rover. Rosie the robot will fetch the paper.

Lawrence,KS (01-01-1999)

From KUMed Volume 49, No. 1

With the popularity of the Tamagotchi - virtual pets the middle school set "fed" and cared for a couple years ago - scientists realized that ordinary people, not just the scientists, could become attached to machines. Could those machines carte for people? Arvin Agah, a robotics scientist on the Lawrence campus, is finding out.

He's building a mind control robot to help people with limited agility, those who literally cannot lift a finger. The robot works much the same as a polygraph test - it senses changes in the person's thinking from changes in his muscle movements and skin. An elaborate collaboration between man and machine plus a camera and a TV screen could train the robot to cross the room, open the front door, scoop the newspaper from the step and deliver it to the patient.

Agah, who is an assistant professor in electrical engineering and computer science, is studying aspects of human comfort and safety. "Aesthetics aren't as important for a robotic car painter or arc welder in Detroit," he says, but they are important in someone's home. A robot whirring and zipping through the living room could be unnerving for some. Agah is surveying people about what they'd be comfortable with - how fast should the robot move, should it never, ever, move in front of the person?

In another possible scenario, a person could swallow a tiny robot that would scope her digestive system, as a doctor controls its travels with a mouse. Once of Agah's students thinks such a robot could be trained to scrub the plaque from clogged arteries. That, for now, is sci fi, says Agah.

All this work is astronomically expensive. The main challenge, Agah says, is securing funding - something that robots have not been trained to retrieve.

For more information, contact ITTC.

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