Infant Mobility

Infants and toddlers suffer from mobility impairments due to diseases such as cerebral palsy, down syndrome and others. These impairments affect the development trajectories of these infants. Lack of mobility gives them less opportunity to interact socially with others. We have shown that even 6-month old infants can learn to drive a robot through training with a force field joystick. Through well designed haptic interfaces with forces fields, these children can learn higher level behaviors such as driving in a cluttered environment and navigation to reach a goal. These paradigms have been tested with infants and toddlers with cerebral palsy, spinal muscle atrophy, and others.



In this study, we suggest a new training paradigm for young infants and toddlers seated on mobile robots, using force feedback joystick, to bring them closer to their peers so that it can facilitate interaction. Four healthy children participated in a game as they chase a caregiver. A haptic force feedback strategy teaches how to follow the caregiver. The force feedback guidance strategy is tested as a training tool to bring the children in close proximity to their peers.

Fig. 1 A toddler driving a mobile robot to avoid obstacles

What we found was that the driving performance of the children with force feedback showed distinct improvements compared to those with conventional joystick. We thus conclude that it is feasible, with proper design, to teach even young children to learn how to drive a robot.

Children with cerebral palsy (CP) are at risk for further developmental delays due to lack of self-generated mobility. It is possible that these infants may benefit from robot-enhanced mobility, where the mobility comes from a robot that the child drives via a joystick. We believe that such a mobility experience will enrich the child and minimize further delays in attaining some of the childhood developmental and social milestones.

In order to address the broad goal posed earlier, one can ask the following simpler questions: 1) Will children with CP learn to drive a robot using a joystick? 2) Will these children with CP sustain interest in doing so over multiple training sessions? 3) Will such a robot-enhanced mobility impact development scores in this group of children? 4) Will a larger number of robotic training sessions be more effective to enhance these developmental scores?

We found that, after training with the robot, children who performed 30 training sessions, labeled as “long-term study,” advanced in their driving skills and showed significant improvements in clinical scores such as Gross Motor Function Measure, Quality of Upper Extremity Skills Test, and Pediatric Evaluation of Disability Inventory (mobility with/without caregiver and social function with/without caregiver).