Today’s Solutions: January 27, 2022

Whether for better or worse, just about everyone has been impacted in some way by new technology. One cohort of people that have truly benefitted is the disabled, who have seen new technologies make living independently more possible.

That brings us to Loro, a new device created by engineer David Hojah. Loro may look like a cartoonish pink bird perched on the back of the wheelchair, but it is actually a smart robot companion for disabled people. Paired with a tablet, it uses machine learning and eye-tracking to help people with limited mobility gain independence. Hojah and co-creators (four graduates of Harvard and MIT) started with the basics: navigation.

Some wheelchair users can’t turn their head to look behind them, so the team used a pole-mounted, 360° camera (elegantly encased in a pink bird) to display the wheelchair’s surroundings on a tablet screen.

After talking with doctors, therapists, and people with disabilities, the team learned that sometimes, if an individual has a hard time speaking, just having a conversation can be an exhausting challenge. They then added AI communication technology, and Loro (meaning “parrot” in Spanish) got a brain, too. Paired with a tablet, the bird scans the user’s surroundings to suggest sentences on the tablet. For example, if Loro’s AI sees a bottle of water via the camera, it will recommend “I am thirsty,” as one option.

To round out its capabilities, Hojah’s team added eye-tracking technology. Typing is a slow process for anyone, but especially for those with mobility issues. Eye-tracking technology allows them to type, control the camera, and select AI sentences just by looking at the screen, and they can connect to smart home devices with the blink of an eye.

Loro has great potential to bring added independence to the lives of disabled people. If all goes well it should be ready for release later this year.

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