Assistive robotics take many forms. We’ve written about a brain implant developed at the University of Pittsburgh Medical College that enables the sense of touch for a robotic arm. Scientists at the University of Tübingen’s Applied Neurotechnology Lab created a robotic hand for quadraplegics. A remote robotic work system from The University of Tokyo and Keio University lends two hands and arms to the wearer.

Quebec-based Kinova Inc., which bills itself as “the human-centric robotics company,” focuses on robot technology that works with humans in research applications. Konova develops robots for industrial and professional tasks and assistive roles. Kinova also designs surgical robotics, but our interest is in Kinova’s assistive robot for people with limited or no use of their upper limbs. The company’s showcase product for upper body mobility assistance is the Jaco Assistive robot. Attached to a user’s powered wheelchair, the robotic arm is capable of six-axis movement that corresponds to the shoulder, elbow, and wrist. The robot has 16 different actions available for user control. Users can manage the robotic arm with a variety of interfaces including the chairs’ joystick, head control, a sip-and-puff system, a head array, and more. The arm’s lightweight carbon fiber construction gives it strength, durability, and weather resistance. The robotic arm also has a two or three-finger gripper for picking up and moving objects. The Jaco’s wheelchair mount does not impede access or navigation.

Jaco users quoted on the company’s website cite their elation about regained autonomy thanks to the arm and hand’s ability to pick up dropped items and manipulate devices and objects that require fine motor control. By attaching the Jaco assistive robot to the user’s wheelchair, the Kinova not only eases user access but also seems to be more like a personal extension and tool rather than yet another machine upon which the user will become dependent.