Babies Drive Robots

December 11, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Babies and toddlers learn at a rapid-fire pace as they begin to crawl, walk and explore the world around them. But what happens when a young child has a problem with mobility? Researchers at the University of Delaware have customized kid-sized robots that put babies on the move.A few months ago, 2year old Andrew Peffley would have been stuck on the sidelines. He was born with spina bifida.

"I never wanted him to accept that he couldn't do the things he wanted to do," Andrew's mom, Teri Peffley, told Ivanhoe.

Instead, he's exploring the world around him like any other toddler, thanks to a pint-sized robot.

Physical therapists and mechanical engineers joined forces to create robots that allow babies with disabilities to move around. They're controlled by a joystick that's simple enough for a 1-year-old to use.

"They realize very quickly, this means going," Cole Galloway, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of physical therapy at the University of Delaware in Newark, told Ivanhoe. "That's the hook we use to get them to train to directionally drive to you."

Researchers say babies build their own brains through exploration. The majority of brain synapses or connections form by age 3, and 85 percent of their brain development is completed by age 5.

"For a baby, it's hard to overestimate how much exploration provides them," Dr. Galloway said.

The robot has infrared sensors that drive the chair around any trouble spots. Researchers also attached a "baby-cam" to record the child's response.

"He'll run away from you just like a toddler would run away," Peffley said. "He chases me down if i have his favorite toy."

A little boy whose brain and body can now keep up with the world around him.

Researchers just outfitted a preschooler with a robot and are studying the impact it has on his ability to socialize with other kids in school.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Dr. James C. (Cole) Galloway
Department of Physical Therapy
University of Delaware
(302) 831-3697
jacgallo@udel.edu


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