Labrador Retriever Robot Helps People Live More Independently
By Mike Dooley, Labrador Systems
When my mother started using a cane and a walker to move around the house, it dawned on me after hearing her drop the dishes a few times that she was using her arms as an extra pair of legs. That made everyday activities at home significantly more complicated, from setting the table and putting away the groceries to tidying up the house and doing the laundry. And as mobility became more difficult for her over the years, so did those activities.
As we researched the issue, we discovered this isn't a rare scenario. With the number of Americans 65 and older projected to nearly double by 2060, individuals like my mom are living older longer than ever before, with mobility being one of most common issues they face as they age. Added to that, injuries, chronic pain and early onset health conditions impact the daily activities of millions of adults under the age of 65 as well. And with 53 million unpaid caregivers in the U.S. helping take care of their family members and friends, we see this as a massive need in society that is being underserved.
New Generation of Assistive Robots
To respond to this need, we founded Labrador Systems, a robotics company that's developing a new generation of personal robots to provide practical, physical assistance for activities in the home. Our mission is to help people live more independently by empowering them to do more things on their own, as well as extend the impact of caregivers for the long hours of the day they cannot provide care in person.
Our first product, The Labrador Retriever, is designed to lighten the load for individuals by providing an extra pair of hands for supporting everyday tasks. The Retriever is large enough to carry items such as a laundry basket, but agile enough to navigate the tight spaces of a home. It features an innovative retrieval and delivery system to bring items within reach and users can easily command the robot using their smart phone or with their voice through an Alexa-enabled device.
In early 2021, we started placing the Retriever into homes to let people try it for themselves and provide their feedback. What we saw was both motivating and humbling at the same. Our first surprise was how fast people took to using the Retriever. Users can send the Retriever to different locations in their home, or what we call "bus stops." We customize the bus stops based on where the user wants the robot to go, like parking next to the front door to help bring in deliveries, or alongside a favorite chair to keep things easily within reach.
Our second surprise was the difference people said it was making in their lives in a very short time. For that, we'd like to share stories from a couple of our first pilot users, Armando and Tricia, who each used the Retriever for several weeks in their own homes.
It's My Right-Hand Buddy, Says Labrador Retriever User
Armando has worked as a trained emergency medical technician (EMT) for over 20 years.
Following his recent stroke, Armando lost partial use of his right side. "When the Retriever was introduced to me, it was like regaining my whole right side again. It was able to carry and move things for me—things I'm unable to do at this point." Whether carrying deliveries from the front door, meals from the kitchen, clothes to the laundry room or tools for home improvement projects, the Retriever became Armando's "right-hand buddy."
Tricia, Labrador's first pilot user, lives with her husband and two dogs. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis over 20 years ago and discovered a myriad of uses for the Retriever. She used the robot to help tidy up the house, move groceries to the kitchen, send food to her husband's office and carry the laundry. For Tricia, the Retriever helped her be more independent, so she had more time to pursue her passions like attending car shows with her customized double cab pickup truck.
In Tricia's words, "I'm 52 and have had MS since I was 30. I fight, kick and scream but you can't change things. And this changes things—you don't realize how much until you get it back."
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We continue to test the robot with more users and have expanded to work with partners in care organizations as well. We've also been working on the next version of the Retriever for production and will be sharing news on that as we start having more robots available.