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This Robot Could Be the Key to Empowering People With Disabilities

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The Stretch robot is small and lightweight, easily movable by one person, and carries a commercial pricetag that is a tiny fraction of the cost of a PR2.

Henry Evans gives a rose to his wife, Jane, with the assistance of a Stretch robot.

Credit: Peter Adams

In 2010, Henry Evans saw a robot on TV. It was a PR2, from the robotics company Willow Garage, and Georgia Tech robotics professor Charlie Kemp was demonstrating how the PR2 was able to locate a person and bring them a bottle of medicine. For most of the people watching that day, the PR2 was little more than a novelty. But for Evans, the robot had the potential to be life changing. "I imagined PR2 as my body surrogate," Evans says. "I imagined using it as a way to once again manipulate my physical environment after years of just lying in bed."

Eight years earlier, at the age of 40, Henry was working as a CFO in Silicon Valley when he suffered a strokelike attack caused by a birth defect, and overnight, became a nonspeaking person with quadriplegia. "One day I was a 6'4", 200 Lb. executive," Evans wrote on his blog in 2006. "I had always been fiercely independent, probably to a fault. With one stroke I became completely dependent for everything…. Every single thing I want done, I have to ask someone else to do, and depend on them to do it." Evans is able to move his eyes, head, and neck, and slightly move his left thumb. He can control a computer cursor using head movements and an onscreen keyboard to type at about 15 words per minute, which is how he communicated with IEEE Spectrum for this story.

From IEEE Spectrum
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