ROS Expands the World for Quadriplegics

By Steve Cousins and Henry Evans

NOTE: This is an overview of the entire article, which appeared in the June 2014 issue of the IEEE Robotics & Automation Magazine.
Click here to read the entire article.

The Robot Operating System (ROS) is a flexible framework for writing robot software, has enabled people to build complex robot systems as they imagine them. Since it is Open-source Software, developers can use and modify the code for their own projects. Using products incorporating ROS, people will be able to explore outside their homes safely and regularly, further expanding their capabilities.

Henry Evans, a mute quadriplegic for the past ten years, had been chief financial officer of a Silicon Valley company before a stroke changed his life. In 2011, Henry watched a CNN report on a PR2, a mobile manipulation platform built by Willow Garage. The PR2 software system is written entirely in ROS.

Henry Evans controlling a PR2 robot using a head tracker and custom user interface.

“I was lying in bed, watching TV as usual, when I saw a technology special on a mobile robot. I immediately imagined controlling it as a surrogate for my own body,” says Evans. He began emailing Willow Garage and finally got a response from Steve Cousins and Charlie Kemp from Georgia Tech who pulled together a project team to build an interface that Henry imagined. Once Henry got used to the PR2, he surprised everyone by moving the PR2’s gripper to his face and using it to scratch an itch, something he’d been unable to do for himself in almost ten years.

Many of the tools built for Henry were based on the ROS visualizer, but the project also explored Web-based interfaces, building on work done at Brown University and the Bosch Research Laboratory, Palo Alto, California ( Chad Jenkins and his students from Brown University set up an AR Parrot quadrotor with a camera which allowed Henry to fly the device over his yard and inspect his vineyard and see the solar panels that had been installed.

Henry’s description of this remarkable use of technology was presented on a TedX video, which has been viewed almost a million times and translated into 25 languages.

Stuart Turner was a computer science major in college when he began to lose function in his arms and legs due to a condition known as cervical spinal bifida. He developed a voice-operated system using Dragon Dictate, Switch XS, Tracker Pro, and Alfred, “and a whole hodgepodge of things,” to code again without his hands.

Now a quadriplegic, Stuart realized he wanted to explore the use of robots, After watching a TEDTalk video about drones, he connected with Chad Jenkins and learned about Robots for Humanity ( What happened after that was magical.

The full article also reports the experiences of several other paraplegics who have been given access to the outside world through ROC. One of these persons, Mantvydas Juozapavius, explains that he is now able to do much on his own. “I can communicate with anybody, anywhere; I can shop online. Robots are one more step ahead — I will be able to visit and explore places all over the globe. Feeding or shaving myself is also just around the corner.”