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Using personal robots to overstep disability

The current issue of STANFORD magazine profiles an alumnus of note, Henry Evans, MBA, a former startup CFO who went on to become a TED speaker, robotics tester and advocate for disability rights. At 40, in 2002, Evans became mute and paralyzed after experiencing a stroke-like attack, and since then he has regained the ability to move his head and one finger on his left hand.

The magazine piece describes how Evans has found ways to work wonders within limitations, including using eye movements, a headtracking device and a computer to communicate and to execute household tasks. It also details his collaboration with Charlie Kemp, PhD, director of the Healthcare Robotics Lab at Georgia Institute of Technology; the Menlo Park robotics research laboratory Willow Garage; and Chad Jenkins, PhD, an associate professor of computer science at Brown University to test a personal robot called PR2.

Evans told STANFORD magazine:

“From a distance, all humans are disabled,” Henry notes. “As humans, we adapted to our environment through evolution. We developed sight and hearing and speech. Yet these adaptations are quite limited. We can’t run faster than about 25 miles per hour. We can’t fly. We can’t stay underwater forever and we can’t be in more than one place at the same time. All humans are limited by nature in many ways.

“Now, I may have lost a few of the natural adaptations which evolution afforded me, but I have adapted to these limitations, often in a way similar to how you have adapted to nature’s limitations. For example, I use a wheelchair to increase my mobility. You use a bike. You use a keyboard and mouse, I use a headtracker and a clicker to operate a computer.”

In the video above, Evans delivers his TED talk on the project Robots for Humanity (R4H). Describing one of R4H’s experiments, an aerial drone he uses in his Los Altos Hills, Calif. home, he said:

It was then I realized I could also use an aerial drone to expand the worlds of bedridden people through flight, giving a sense of movement and control.

[Using the drone,] I could look around the garden and see the grapes we are growing. I inspected the solar panels on our roof.


One hundred years ago, I would have been treated like a vegetable. Actually, that’s not true. I would have died.

Previously: In motion: Accessible Icon Project moves forward and Biotech start-up builds artful artificial limbs

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