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Christelle’s need: birth of the idea

A project log for Open assistive robotic arm for meal

An accessible robotic arm designed to help people with special feeding needs.

Julien OUDINJulien OUDIN 08/31/2020 at 08:410 Comments

Christelle is a young woman who lives at Imphy's healthcare home. She has cerebral palsy which prevents her from walking and using her arms like everyone else. Despite her motor limitations, Christelle is very active and enjoys being able to do things on her own and her passions are sports, video games, shopping, and going to concerts.

To help her carry out his activities, we have set up various human and technical aids. Some are commercially available, others are DIY stuffs made with digital fabrication technologies.

In 2018, her motor condition worsened and despite physical therapy and medication, it was becoming increasingly difficult and painful for her to bring the spoon to her mouth during meals. This very uncomfortable situation was a real loss of independence for her.

We have tried different technical solutions, but without success. Recourse to the help of a third person was essential for her to be able to eat.

But Christelle's wish was to be able to feed on her own, it's frustrating to see yourself being fed by a third party, without necessarily controlling the pace, and it changes social interactions during meal. She would like to be able to do as before and go to a restaurant with her friends.

In the summer of 2018, we tested a robotic meal assistance solution: the Neater eater®. For two weeks, Christelle was able to try out this great equipment, which allowed her to regain autonomy and pleasure at the table.

It was a tear for her when we had to return the equipment on loan.

This device is very functional, but it costs € 6,500 which is a lot of money. Immediately after the test, we searched to buy this device and applied for funding from social agencies and government aid, but we got only negative responses. This situation demonstrates a glaring lack of accessibility.

As an occupational therapist, I have thought of many people like Christelle who cannot access this help because of its prohibitive cost.

Using 3d printing and electronic prototyping to make small adaptations, within our establishment for a few years, I imagined that it should be possible to design a robotic assistive  feeding solution, accessible and at low cost.

This was a vague idea from a maker, and although this idea was running through my head, I didn't have the time or the skills to work on it.

I never imagined that we would be able to study this idea more closely. In September 2018, a workmate asked me to participate in a healthy hackathon. What a great opportunity ! I had a problem and a user need that we were going to be able to study with motivated and competent people during the Hacking health Besançon.

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