Whole-arm Tactile Sensing for Beneficial and Acceptable Contact During Robotic Assistance

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Grice, Phillip M.
Killpack, Marc D.
Jain, Advait
Vaish, Sarvagya
Hawke, Jeffrey
Kemp, Charles C.
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Many assistive tasks involve manipulation near the care-receiver's body, including self-care tasks such as dressing, feeding, and personal hygiene. A robot can provide assistance with these tasks by moving its end effector to poses near the care-receiver's body. However, perceiving and maneuvering around the care-receiver's body can be challenging due to a variety of issues, including convoluted geometry, compliant materials, body motion, hidden surfaces, and the object upon which the body is resting (e.g., a wheelchair or bed). Using geometric simulations, we first show that an assistive robot can achieve a much larger percentage of end-effector poses near the care-receiver's body if its arm is allowed to make contact. Second, we present a novel system with a custom controller and whole-arm tactile sensor array that enables a Willow Garage PR2 to regulate contact forces across its entire arm while moving its end effector to a commanded pose. We then describe tests with two people with motor impairments, one of whom used the system to grasp and pull a blanket over himself and to grab a cloth and wipe his face, all while in bed at his home. Finally, we describe a study with eight able-bodied users in which they used the system to place objects near their bodies. On average, users perceived the system to be safe and comfortable, even though substantial contact occurred between the robot's arm and the user's body.
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