Design of a novel mobility interface for toddlers driving a mobile robot by body motion

Jin, Ning
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University of Delaware
Mobility is a key factor in early stage development. Children with mobility impairments, such as with cerebral palsy, spina bifida or Down syndrome have delayed independent mobility due to weak muscles and/or poor coordination. These children usually do not use powered mobility devices until the age of five, as per current medical practice. As a result, these children have considerably less chance to move independently compared with typically developing children of the same age. Lack of such independent mobility may result in delays in their motor, social, emotional, perceptual, cognitive, and language skills. Besides, although independent mobility can be provided by power mobility devices, it does little to encourage development of gross motor skills. This thesis details the design, fabrication, evaluation of a novel mobility interface for the mobile robot to explore the environment when a toddler driver is placed in a harness. Toddlers can maneuver the robotic walker through a drive interface that utilizes rotary sensors to detect the translational and rotational motion of their bodies. We expect that toddlers will accommodate themselves to drive the walker by using their body motion. Specifically, two control strategies are developed for this walker. Feasibility of the system is demonstrated in this thesis using experiment data from five typically developing toddlers. Further studies will demonstrate how special needs children will be trained to drive this walker, and how such self-generated locomotion can benefit their long-term development.