Technologies don’t come more potentially transformative than Obi, a robotic arm that allows people with physical disabilities to feed themselves, restoring in the process a sense of dignity that might otherwise risk being lost.
Obi resembles a stylish kitchen appliance, and boasts a simple two-button interface — with one button selecting which food to pick up, and the other controlling a spoon that dips into the food and then moves in a fluid motion to the operator’s mouth.
A passion project for creator and University of Dayton engineering school graduate Jon Dekar, Obi has been an ongoing development project since 2006 — with Dekar having racked up 15,000 hours working on it since then. Dekar was inspired to create Obi after seeing the challenges faced by people with disabilities, including as his aging grandfather.
“There aren’t a lot of useful robots — aside from maybe the Roomba vacuum — that people currently use on a regular basis for a daily need that truly impacts their life in a meaningful way,” Dekar told Digital Trends. “In a large part, they are really expensive industrial manipulator robots, hobbyist-type devices, or toys. We think Obi is one of the first really well-designed robotic devices intended to impact the daily routine of the end customer.”
Dekar even notes that it is possible to modify the operation of Obi depending on the physical needs of the diner/operator. “We make sure that there’s an accessibility switch on the market that every customer can use to operate the machine,” he says, describing the discussions the company has with potential customers when they show an interest in Obi. “That can be wherever a person has mobility in their body: it doesn’t matter if someone only has dexterity in their pinky finger, or all they can do is blink their eye. We have yet to find a candidate that we have not been able to equip with a switch so they can operate Obi.”
The $4,500 robot comes with two interchangeable spoons, a placemat, a customized plate containing four different bowls, and charging cable and documentation.