Development of robotic mobility for infants: Rationale and outcomes

Hélène M. Larin, Ithaca College
Carole W. Dennis, Ithaca College
Sharon Stansfield, Ithaca College

Abstract

Objectives: To assess the feasibility of a robotic mobility device for infants using alternative control interfaces aimed at promoting early self-initiated mobility, and to assess the effects of a training protocol and robot experience. Design: Observational and pre-post quantitative case studies. Setting: Standardised, research laboratory and day-care centres with toys and individuals familiar to infants. Participants: Children with and without disabilities, aged 5 months to 3 years. Interventions: In each study, infants were seated over a Pioneer™ 3-DX mobile robot. Some infants controlled the directional movement of the robot by weight shifting their body on a Nintendo® Wii™ Balance Board (the WeeBot), while others used a modified joystick. Infants participated in five sessions over 2 to 5 weeks. Sessions consisted of administering a 10-minute training protocol preceded and followed by 2 to 3. minutes of free play. One child with motor impairment used a button switch array and a different experimental design. Main outcome measures: From the videotaped free-play periods, goal-directed behaviours were coded and time in motion was measured. In the training period, a scoring system was developed to measure the infants' driving performance. Results: Preliminary outcomes indicate that infants without disabilities, aged 5 to 10 months, demonstrated significant improvement in driving performance and goal-directed movement using the WeeBot. Infants who used the joystick were less successful on all measures. Results for infants with disabilities using the WeeBot were mixed. Conclusions: Mobile robots offer promise to enhance the development of early self-mobility. Novel types of interfaces, such as the WeeBot, warrant further investigation. © 2012 Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.