At Campus Grimstad, University of Agder, the robot EVE is being programmed to be an assistant for 17-year-old Andreas Eikin.
“This robot means that I can be more independent and do more tasks by myself”, says Andreas Eikin.
17-year-old Andreas has a rare congenital muscle disease called Duchenne muscular dystrophy. It weakens all the muscle groups in the body and means that Eikin has limited strength. He is therefore reliant on using a wheelchair in everyday life.
It doesn’t stop Andreas Eikin, who dreams of working in Meny supermarket. He takes sales, service and tourism at Dahlske upper secondary school. Since December, he has had an internship at Meny Krøgenes in Arendal once a week. Eikin has an assistant with him to help him. But in the future, he hopes to bring a robot.
“When working in Meny, I really noticed the need for something to help me with heavy lifting. I need help lifting heavy boxes onto the shelves, so I can concentrate on other tasks in the store”, says Andreas Eikin.
To get help with this, Andreas and his father, Terje Eikin, contacted I4Health ltd. This is an innovation-driven company seeking to co-create sustainable health technology solutions, which is located on UiA's Campus Grimstad.
“Due to the coronavirus and the disability, it was challenging to find an internship that was meaningful and good for Andreas. I happened to come across someone who was working on a robot project, and I understood what possibilities robots at work offer. I had heard about I4Health, and after we contacted them, the ball has been rolling”, says Terje Eikin.
The pilot project is led by I4Health and is in collaboration with the student-based consulting company Young Industrial Innovators (Yi2) at UiA, which is responsible for the research and technical content. The whole thing is coordinated by Associate Professor Filippo Sanfilippo. In addition, the Department of Assistive Technology at NAV is also part of the team.
“Through the project, we will find out if it is possible to use robots as support assistants for people with impaired or loss of motor function. It will give many people the opportunity to live more independent lives and get a job. Today, around 100,000 disabled people are out of work.”
“We are talking about groundbreaking opportunities. We are far beyond the comfort zone of what is usually considered possible. But here we can contribute to solving challenges at individual, group and societal level. And this is at the core of our vision”, says Inger Holen, CEO of I4Health.
The robot itself, named EVE, is manufactured by the company Halodi Robotics. It will be programmed to follow Andreas Eikin's orders through a wireless touch screen.
“The robot is able to lift 8 kilos per arm. In practice, Andreas will choose which item or package for EVE to pick. Then Andreas will choose on the touch screen on which shelf to place the item. Based on our experience, EVE can operate for about two hours and requires just under an hour to charge”, says Kristoffer Sand.
He studies mechatronics at the University of Agder and is a partner and account manager at Yi2. The team includes computer engineering student Henning Blomfeldt Olsen, and Arminas Gronskis, who recently submitted his bachelor thesis in mechatronics on the use and programming of the EVE robot. Together, the students program and develop the robot movements adapted to Andreas Eikin's needs.
“The actual technology used here is just the tip of the iceberg”, says Sand.
According to Kristoffer Sand, the goal is to complete the project in August. Then a full demonstration with Andreas Eikin will be arranged in a simulated environment, to visualise the possibilities of using a robot as a store assistant.
If everything goes as planned, father and son hope that the project can be developed and used by more people with disabilities, to help more people enter the labour market.
“Andreas is just one example of someone who can benefit from such a future-oriented product. We see that it is possible to develop a robot that can be of help to others in the same situation. This pilot project is a step in the right direction”, says Terje Eikin.