This morning CNN reported on a new technology from the Center for Healthcare Robotics at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s a 5 foot tall gray metal robot called El-E (pronounced Ellie) and it’s being designed to help assist with patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. See El-E in action.
The robot is able to drive itself around a room and has proximity sensors that allow it to navigate itself and it’s arm around obstacles — and can be directed to pick up an object with a green laser pointer. For example, if the person using the robot wants an object off of a shelf such as a hairbrush or TV remote, they would point the laser pointer at the object and El-E would fetch it and bring it to the person. El-E can also open cabinet doors and drawers as well as room doors.
What’s interesting is that after a short time people seem to begin to respond to the robot as a companion. CNN interviewed Norma Margeson, an artist living in Georgia who has ALS. “Oh, I love it,” she said. “I think it is such a unique character. It has a personality all its own. It can be a friend, a very good friend.” That may not be a coincidence because Charles Kemp, the director for the Center of Healthcare Robotics lead his team in studying assistance animals as part of the developmental research for El-E.
El-E is, of course, a long way from being available to the public. We don’t think that a robot could ever replace the warmth and companionship of an animal, but it may be an additional tool to help people with mobility and motor impairments in the future.