Obi Robot Feeds Hope to Those with Physical Limitations

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The robotic device helps people who have difficulty feeding themselves independently

The routine process of picking up a utensil and delivering food from your plate to your mouth is a daily function most of us take for granted. However, thousands of people in the U.S. lacking upper extremity motor control rely on the help of a loved one or caretaker at each meal. Obi Robot in Dayton helps people who lack upper extremity motor control feed themselves, restoring a sense of autonomy and accessibility.

“We designed a robotic device to provide a more independent dining experience for individuals who are unable to do so on their own. People affected by neuromuscular disorders like ALS, muscular dystrophy, people recovering from strokes — anybody who has trouble getting the tools necessary to this experience,” said Jon Dekar, co-founder and CEO of DESĪN LLC. “Sometimes people can really struggle with that dependence on others. We wanted to create a more accessible way for them to live.”

The robotic device, as demonstrated in this video, consists of four bowls to hold food, as well as a jointed arm which can lift a magnetized spoon filled with food up to a person’s mouth — all done hands-free. Obi’s robotic arm, which impressively mimics human movement, can be triggered by the blink of an eye, the wiggle of a toe or even the wrinkle of a forehead, scooping up full bites for its users to consume.

Obi’s innovative technology is the product of more than 12 years of hard work by Dekar, jointly inspired by his own experiences working in a nursing home as a high schooler, as well as witnessing firsthand his grandfather’s degenerative neuromuscular disease.

“Over a period of about four years, my grandfather slowly lost the ability to walk, speak and use his arms. I saw how he had to be spoon-fed by my grandmother, and how much he absolutely hated that,” said Dekar. “It’s always difficult to watch a loved one struggle, but I think it’s especially difficult when they don’t have access to tools that could enable their autonomy.”

In his first week as a freshman in mechanical engineering, Dekar witnessed a six-year-old girl try to eat with a condition known as arthrogryposis, which made it difficult for her to control her upper extremities. In that moment, he became fiercely driven to work on market research and an early Obi prototype. The first prototype was a unique mechanical mechanism made from easily accessible materials, which quickly evolved into an electromechanical robotic device.

In the years to follow, Dekar built a first-of-its kind, highly-technical robotic device, working tirelessly from his own apartment and later at The Entrepreneur’s Center, an Ohio Third Frontier partner in Dayton where he enjoys a facility geared towards advanced manufacturing. The result? Two prestigious international awards — an R&D 100 award in 2016 and a gold Medical Design Excellence Award in 2018. Obi is well on its way to changing lives, and Dekar is proud to have designed and manufactured the award-winning device in Ohio.

“To me, the biggest advantage is the enormous amount of talent in the region in terms of engineering and scientific expertise,” said Dekar. “There’s a long and well-documented history of innovation and  manufacturing here — you can build anything in the state of Ohio.”

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