Unfortunately, there are many diseases and injuries that render a person unable to feed her or himself. In addition to the lack of independence people feel when they have to rely on others to feed them, the time required by caretakers to feed someone with nervous system or muscular impairment, is time that could be spent with other family members or patients or even just to have their own meal at the same time.
Obi has invented a robotic feeding companion designed to give back independence, control, and dignity to people with impairments that prevent self-feeding otherwise. The Obi robot comes with a four-section plate, a place mat, two spoons (one large, one small), plus a charging cable and documentation. According to the company the Obi is FDA compliant as a Class 1 Medical Device and Underwriter Labs certified as a Home Healthcare Appliance. The small appliance is also water-resistant and wipe-down safe. The plate, place mat, and spoons are microwave, dishwasher, and freezer-safe.
While the Obi is intended for people with a wide range of motor impairment — including amputees, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, ALS, and Parkinson’s Disease — it’s not right for everyone. Intended users are five years or older, have the cognitive capacity to operate a simple machine, can make decisions about food selection and consumption, and can chew and swallow. The Obi robot has a learning mode in which a caregiver holds a “Teach” button and moves the arm to the proper positions and distances. Once that routine is learned the robot remembers it even when the power is turned off. Two activating switch ports, one for “choose” and one for “deliver”, work with standard accessibility contact switches that plug in with standard 3.5 mm connectors. The “choose” switch positions the robot arm over one of four sections in the plate and the “deliver” switch signals the arm to scoop a spoonful of food and deliver it to the pre-learned position.
The promise of Obi is one of freedom and independence. Obviously, there will be a learning period during which caregivers learn how to prepare food — generally cut up to approximately pea-to-raspberry size — and how to teach the robot the distances and positions, which could conceivably change at different mealtimes.
The Obi robotic feeding assistant costs $4,500. The company site has a crowdfunding page that people can use for help setting up a campaign to pay for an Obi robot for someone who can benefit from it.