IEEE PULSE presents

Robotic Assistive Technologies: Principles and Practice

Book Reviews January/February 2020
Author: Paul King

Edited by Pedro Encarnação and Albert M. Cook, CRC Press, 2017, ISBN: 9781498745727, xvi + 382 pages, $65.95

This book is an excellent guide for all those who want to explore the world of robotic assistive technologies, as it takes the reader from the basic concepts through different applications to ethical and social implications. It was written by specialists with substantial experience working on the specific topic of each chapter. In addition, care has been taken to ensure that the same terms and general ideas are used throughout, which sometimes does not occur in books with multiple authors. This common framework avoids confusion and makes reading easier. The subject of this text is useful for engineers who want to apply robotics to help people with disabilities or special needs, but also for practitioners who want to get acquainted with the use of robotic assistive technologies in their activities. Each chapter begins with a table of contents and a list of learning objectives. This is followed by the underlying principles in each application. Most of the chapters contain a critical review of the technology available, as well as the utilization protocols, user studies, outcomes, and clinical evidence. The content depends on the technology readiness level of the devices described. Finally, chapters conclude with future directions, study questions, and references. All chapters are well written and well referenced.

Chapter 1, “Fundamentals of Robotic Assistive Technologies,” provides the most important concepts and terms in this area, such as disability, rehabilitation, assistive technology, robotics, and levels of autonomy. Also, conceptualized models of terms are presented emphasizing the importance of medical and social aspects, as well as standards related to safety requirements for personal care robots and the technology readiness scale to evaluate the maturity of technologies.

Chapter 2, “Human–Robot Interaction for Rehabilitation Robots,” describes the main principles of human–technology interfaces (HRI) involved in the development and implementation of rehabilitation and assistive robotic systems. It discusses the two main goals of applying HRI to design robots that provide safe physical interaction and that engage in social interchange. The metrics and their corresponding measurement instruments that determine the effects of the HRI are also described. Finally, the studies that directly investigate these metrics and principles are presented.

Chapter 3, “Assistive Robotic Manipulators,” defines the characteristics and functions of an assistive robotic manipulator (ARM) and describes how these manipulator robots can be used to help people with disabilities in everyday activities. It discusses advantages, such as achieving personal independence, and disadvantages, such as difficulties in adapting the ARM to different activities and the need for sophisticated safety systems to protect users.

Chapter 4, “Upper and Lower Limb Robotic Prostheses,” provides a very detailed and complete explanation of rehabilitation robots that are directly implanted into the human body following upper and lower limb amputation. It covers the basic principles to create useful prosthetic technology, definitions, components, ­characteristics, and functionalities. It also ­explains the importance of achieving prosthetic-­limb motion according to the user’s intention and provides information about user acceptance and embodiment. The “Future Directions” section offers a very good perspective of the work that remains to be done, especially in implantable technology and advanced control paradigms.

Chapter 5, “Smart Wheelchairs for Assessment and Mobility,” gives an overview of the characteristics that a smart wheelchair must meet to increase safety and improve navigation efficiency for the user to achieve independent mobility. It provides detailed information about their components and the advantages and disadvantages of using different types of sensors, inputs, and feedback mechanisms. It also discusses challenges and the reasons why smart wheelchairs have not been tested in uncontrolled environments and are not yet in ­widespread use.

Chapter 6, “Exoskeletons as an Assistive Technology for Mobility and Manipulation,” explains what an exoskeleton is and what it is not. It describes the principles that are fundamental to exoskeleton technology when it is implemented as an assistive technology for mobility or handling, and the candidate users for this kind of systems. It goes on to establish the advantages and disadvantages of commercial models of lower and upper limb exoskeletons and outlines activities, applications, and environments suitable for the use of exoskeletons as mobility devices.

Chapter 7, “Robotic Systems for Augmentative Manipulation to Promote Cognitive Development, Play, and Education,” demonstrates the importance of using robotic systems in the development of children with motor disabilities. It explains the use of this technology to facilitate learning, as well as free and manipulative play activities. It must be underlined that specific case studies are provided to exemplify the results of the skills acquired with the proposed solutions in the areas of cognition, education, and play. In addition, it reviews the available technology in this field and points out the importance of its being simple, affordable, and adaptable to the user’s capabilities.

Chapter 8, “Social Assistive Robots for Children with Complex Disabilities,” highlights the importance of Socially Assistive Robots (SARs) for children who have disabilities in improving their social interactions and facilitating play activities. It analyzes experimental and commercial SARs that have been used with children with autism spectrum disorders and the characteristics that are required to ensure that a SAR can be safe and efficient. It also provides clinical evidence from different case studies and establishes the need to standardize the elements considered in current research.

Chapter 9, “Robots Supporting Care for Elderly People,” emphasizes the importance of assistive technology in the daily life of older adults. It establishes a care robotics framework and makes the difference between physical assistance and social assistance robots. It reviews the available robotic systems for assistance and care, and presents case studies with clinical evidence, most of them related to the PARO robot. It also discusses some ethical issues arising from the fact that an essential part of elderly people care is human contact.

Chapter 10, “Ethical and Social Implications of the Use of Robots in Rehabilitation Practice,” mentions three aspects that must be considered in robots in rehabilitation practice: the ethics of the person who develops the technology, the ethics of the rehabilitation professional when using robots in clinical practice, and the ethical systems built into robots. It provides a broad overview of the ethical implications of using robotic assistive technologies in health care and includes proposals for codes of ethics related to different aspects of human–robot interaction. It also analyzes the benefits and limitations of applying robots in rehabilitation from an ethical perspective.

In conclusion, this is a very useful book to obtain a complete overview of robotic assistive technologies, which makes it an excellent reference in this field. It is also highly recommended for undergraduate biomedical and mechatronics engineering and physical therapy and rehabilitation students.

—Review by Elizabeth Guevara Martínez Universidad Anahuac Mexico

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