A new collaborative robotics project is ripping the idea of autonomous assistance for the disabled out from the land of science-fiction and planting it firmly in the real world – and all using the power of Open Source.

‘Robots for Humanity’ is the result of a team up between Willow Garage, developers of personal robotics hardware and software, ‘Healthcare Robotics Lab’ at Georgia Tech and disabled user Henry Evans and his wife Jane.

Henry Evans was left paralysed by a brain stem stroke at the age of 40. He is unable to move, speak or care fully for himself.

But the Robots for Humanity project is giving him back a small chip of independence.


Using Ubuntu and a webcam Henry is already able to control his computer, surf the web, write e-mail etc., using simple head movements. Regardless of the OS that is great of itself.

The ‘Robots for Humanity’ project simply extends this idea outwards, letting Henry manipulate the world around him via a robot called a PR2.

The Pr2 uses a head-mounted Kinect sensor to monitor Henry’s head movements, and feeds the data back to Henry’s computer to allow him to control the robot, via various interfaces, in real time. Henry can move the robot’s body, arms and head – allowing him to shave, scratch and itch – or use autonomous actions – such as navigating a room or reaching out for an object.

A project such as this should be championed regardless of its nature. But, you know, the fact it’s being built as open-source software, making use of open-source software (all of the promotional videos for Willow Garage show software in use on Ubuntu, no less) is pretty awesome.

You can find out more on the project in the short promotional video below:

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