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Variable Autonomy in a Shared Control Pedestrian Mobility Aid for the Elderly



The goal of this project is to develop a pedestrian mobility aid for the elderly. In order for this type of assistive technology to be useful and accepted by its intended user community, it must enhance the abilities of users, not replace those abilities. This leads to an architecture in which the system must operate without hindering the user’s ability to take direct action when they choose. The agent must select its own goals based on observations of its user’s actions, and vary its level of autonomy from fully autonomous through cooperative (subordinating its goals to the goals of the operator), to completely passive. This is crucial not only because users may have diminished capacity to execute their actions, but because the ability of the agent to correctly interpret the user’s goals is tied to its ability to act while still allowing the user to “feel in control”. We present a mobility aid, i.e. a wheeled walker, which varies its goals and level of activity based on an estimation of its user’s intentions. The assistive walker often takes no action, allowing the user to be fully in control. When the ease or safety of the user’s travel is threatened, the walker attempts to influence the user’s motion based on its belief in the user’s goal. By varying the degree of autonomy, the walker can adjust to the user as their abilities change from day to day, or hour to hour. This prevents the walker from “trying to do too much”, allowing the user to feel as if they are in control and not being lead

Year: 2009
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