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Purdue start-up receives rare funding from Dept. of Veterans’ Affairs for its robotic table

A start-up from Purdue University has received a grant from the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs to advance its robotic over-the-bed table for veterans and others with disabilities.

The RoboTable helps users better access their laptops and mobile devices while restricted to bed, allowing them to be more independent and productive with work or school.

The VA has only granted three companies its Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) Assistive Technology Grant, a short list that now includes Prehensile Technologies, the developer of RotoTable.

 “Unfortunately, a reality of living with chronic mobility impairments is that an individual may have to spend extended periods in bed while their wheelchair is repaired or while recovering from a medical problem,” says Brad Duerstock, associate professor of engineering practice at Purdue and co-founder of Prehensile Technologies. “These individuals are dependent on technology to work or mobilize.”

According to Jeffrey Ackerman, a Purdue graduate and chief technology officer at Prehensile, there is a high demand for technologies like the RoboTable among the veteran population.

 “There are about 3.9 million veterans with at least one service-related disability in the U.S.,” he says. “Additionally, 6.4 million veterans have muscular-skeletal disabilities and 1.8 million have neurological disabilities. These disabilities can limit their independence, thus we want to help provide a device that does not require hand or arm dexterity to operate.”

RotoTable is activated by remote control so that from any position the user can move and adjust the robot’s arm to best fit his or her needs. When not in use, the device docks out of the way.

 “Our device cannot be in the way of patients nor inhibit caretakers’ duties,” says Duerstock. “Conventional devices usually have fixed mounted positions on the bed or on the wheelchair. Our users retract the arm and use their chair or bed however they want to. Users can even use RoboTable to view their smartphones or tablets from a completely reclined position.”

The SAH grant is valid for 18 months. During that time, Prehensile aims to have a manufacturer, a working prototype and advancements in features such as voice control and long-term care. The start-up also receives support from the Purdue Foundry, an accelerator in the university’s entrepreneurship center.


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