Wii Balance Board Powers Baby-Moving Robot

Children and adults with movement impairing handicaps have access to many devices to help them get around, but what about disabled infants? Researchers have come up with a baby-moving robot that uses a Wii Balance Board as its guide.

A team of researchers from Ithaca College in New York have developed a rather clever way to give movement-impaired babies mobility without utilising the often complicated controls found in powered wheelchairs and other movement granting devices.

See babies may possess a certain amount of street smarts, but they lack the subtle grasp of grasping things and other advanced motor skills needed to control even the simplest of machines. What babies do have is baby urges, and when they have such urges they often express them by leaning towards whatever it is they want.

So the University of Ithaca researchers have created a device that moves the way a baby leans.

The Tots on Bots Project consists of a wheeled Pioneer 3 robot platform for a base, a baby seat for the baby to sit in and a Wii Balance Board positioned between the two. Using a commercial Bluetooth adaptor and the WiiYourself! C++ library, the four corners of the Wii Balance Board transmit information to the robotics software when the baby leans in a certain direction. The robot base uses that information to move the baby towards whatever they want, be it a delicious piece of fruit or an unfortunately placed electrical socket.

The Pioneer base uses sonar to keep from knocking into things, and there's also an override stick so that a responsible adult can take control if need be, or an irresponsible adult can play the most inappropriate game of Frogger ever.

Kidding aside, this really is an ingenious way to give handicapped babies mobility, playing off of their strengths - leaning - without having to rely on their weaknesses - just about everything else, outside of drooling.

Babies Take the Wheel of Driving Robots [Technology Review via Gizmodo]


    Funny how most news resources won't ever focus on the good things that gaming (and gaming peripherals) do. Only the kid who kills his best friend and blames it on viva piniata... or something..

    While "Tots on Bots" is quite possibly my favorite name for ANY program, i do have a few concerns about this one. Babies, while they do lean towards what they want, may not know they they need to stop leaning or pull back, nor may they have the concept of steering. This means that a lot of babies may be meeting Mr.Wall quite a few times in their day.
    Also, does it have a backwards feature? Because i see young tots throwing themselves backwards all the time in play or when they're grizzly... what happens then? The thing hits full reverse and you've lost little timmy down the basement...

    All concerns aside, lets get to the seriously awesome part of this project. We all know that disney are going to lap this shit up, and next year we're going to see a full length motion picture spy-babies movie involving a car chase scene where a beaten up hemmy v8 is trying to get away from "little jimmy, baby detective". Of course this scene will involve unexplainable explosions and far more ramps than what you'd usually see on your daily commute to and from work.

    In response to your concerns:

    The article mentions that the robot uses sonar to detect things like walls - stopping the robot and preventing it from getting close to them. And if something is out of reach of the sonar (like a table) the overriding joystick allows the parent to stop or move it.

    As for moving backwards - that can be enabled and disabled. Last time I saw the code only forwards movement was enabled. Some of the discussion was that it might be too confusing. Simplicity is good :)

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