July 13, 2016      

We’re all about assistive robots that help people, and there’s a new dining robot helping disabled people regain some when they’re hungry.

Meet Obi, a dining robot that gives people with disabilities the power to control their meals. Obi is a robotic arm that uses a spoon to scoop food from one of four bowls and deliver the food to your mouth.

Obi isn’t completely autonomous. There are two buttons to make it work: a green “choose” button that moves the spoon to the bowl you’d like to eat from, and a blue “delivery” button that tells Obi to scoop the food and bring it to your mouth. You also must “teach” Obi where your mouth is so that it knows where to bring the food each time.

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There isn’t anything about voice control on the spec sheet, but it would make sense for Obi to have voice-controlled feeding for individuals who can’t use their arms or their legs and can’t hit the “choose” and “deliver” buttons. Robotics Trends reached out to Obi about this but has yet to hear back.

Updated at 4:45 PM EDT: Obi sent the following information on how to control the dining robot companion: “Currently as it stands, Obi can be operated by anyone able to move a muscle on their body or make a sound. Obi uses off-the-shelf accessibility switches, such as Sip n Puff straws, to command the choose and delivery functionality. Therefore, individuals who are fully quadriplegic can operate Obi.”

Obi, which has a rechargeable battery that lasts 2-4 hours, costs $4,500. While that’s not exactly cheap, it’s a small price to pay to help a loved one regain some dignity and independence. The $4,500 prices gets you one Obi robotic dining companion, one plate and placemat, two magnetically attaching spoons (small and large), and a charging cable. It also requires two switches with universal 3.5mm connectors, both sold separately, to operate.

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Obi’s website even has a section on how to crowdfund your Obi, saying “a goal of $5,400 would cover the full cost of your Obi including taxes and shipping.” The company says many choose to crowdfund their Obi by asking for donations, including the family of a young girl named Jasmaine who was born 29 weeks premature and suffered a cranial bleed during delivery that resulted in Spastic Cerebral Palsy.

“It’s just not an enjoyable experience to have someone feed you, either for the person who’s eating or the person doing the feeding,” said David Hare, a year-long Obi diner living with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). “I can’t describe how much more fun meals are now, both for me and my wife, who has long helped me eat. I know people are passionate about their cell phones and laptops, but it’s nothing compared to the excitement I feel about my Obi. Getting it was literally a life-changing experience.”

Obi Feeding Robot

Obi was built by Jon and Tom Dekar, the father-son duo that founded Obi parent company DES?N in 2010. They spent the next six years refining Obi’s design, securing investors, sourcing suppliers, and testing prototypes. The first Obi prototype was designed in 2006 by Jon, a University of Dayton engineering student, who saw the challenges faced by people with disabilities as varied as his aging grandfather and a 6-year-old girl with Arthrogryposis.

“Every day, millions of people must be fed by caregivers, and they find the experience to be conspicuous and frustrating,” Jon said. “Feeding oneself is a basic human need, and there was no good solution available. I became inspired to change that.”

Obi Feeding Robot Companion