Robotic cooking aids are gaining traction in the modern kitchen, but the team behind Obi has a goal more noble than just cooking up a gourmet storm. This little robot arm is designed to empower people afflicted with physical disabilities, giving them back the dignity of feeding themselves.

The first product out of consumer robotics company Desin, Obi looks like a clean, modern kitchen appliance that could improve the quality of life for sufferers of conditions such as ALS, cerebral palsy, MS, Parkinson's and brain or spinal injuries. After a caregiver divides the meal into Obi's four separate bowls, users are able to feed themselves through a simple interface: one button moves the arm between the bowls, and another selects that food, dips the spoon in and brings it up to the diner's mouth.

Those inputs can be customized, depending on the specific needs and abilities of the user. Big bright "Buddy Buttons" on the table can be useful for those who still have some function in their hands but lack the fine motor skills required to steady a spoon. They could also be placed on the floor to use as foot pedals. Pillows that respond to the slightest squeeze allow for head and cheek activation, while a small mouth piece switch can be triggered through sip or puff actions.

How does Obi know where the user's mouth is? There's a "Teach Mode" button where the arm can be positioned manually to the desired location. From then on, the robot will remember that position and return to it any time the user presses the button, until a new one is set.

Collision detection prevents Obi from charging straight onto that position if a wayward eye or hand happens to cross its path. When dinner's all done, Obi's plates and spoons, which are BPA-free, can be thrown in the dishwasher, microwave or freezer. Desin says the device will provide two to four hours of eating time for each charge of its internal batteries.

Obi's available for US$4,500, which includes the plate, placemat, a large and small spoon, charging cable and user documentation. The "Buddy Buttons," pillows and mouth piece can be ordered separately, depending on user needs.

The team introduces Obi in the video below.

Source: Obi

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