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TEDxMidAtlantic

Henry Evans and Chad Jenkins: Meet the robots for humanity

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Paralyzed by a stroke, Henry Evans uses a telepresence robot to take the stage and show how new robotics, tweaked and personalized by a group called Robots for Humanity, help him live his life to the full. He shows off a nimble little quadrotor drone, created by a team led by Chad Jenkins, that gives him the ability to once again stroll a garden, visit a campus or give a TEDx Talk.

- Robotics activist
In 2003, Henry Evans became quadriplegic and mute after a stroke-like attack. Now, working with Robots for Humanity, he's a pioneer in adaptive robotic tech to help him, and other disabled people like him, navigate the world. Full bio

Sarge Salman: All the way from
Los Altos Hills, California,
00:12
Mr. Henry Evans.
00:15
(Applause)
00:17
Henry Evans: Hello.
00:32
My name is Henry Evans,
00:34
and until August 29, 2002,
00:35
I was living my version of the American dream.
00:39
I grew up in a typical American town near St. Louis.
00:44
My dad was a lawyer.
00:49
My mom was a homemaker.
00:50
My six siblings and I were good kids,
00:53
but caused our fair share of trouble.
00:56
After high school, I left home to study
00:59
and learn more about the world.
01:02
I went to Notre Dame University
01:05
and graduated with degrees
in accounting and German,
01:07
including spending a year of study in Austria.
01:11
Later on, I earned an MBA at Stanford.
01:14
I married my high school sweetheart, Jane.
01:19
I am lucky to have her.
01:23
Together, we raised four wonderful children.
01:25
I worked and studied hard
to move up the career ladder,
01:30
eventually becoming a chief financial officer
01:33
in Silicon Valley, a job I really enjoyed.
01:35
My family and I bought our first and only home
01:40
on December 13, 2001,
01:43
a fixer-upper in a beautiful spot
01:47
of Los Altos Hills, California,
01:49
from where I am speaking to you now.
01:51
We were looking forward to rebuilding it,
01:54
but eight months after we moved in,
01:57
I suffered a stroke-like attack
caused by a birth defect.
01:59
Overnight, I became a mute quadriplegic
02:04
at the ripe old age of 40.
02:09
It took me several years,
02:12
but with the help of an incredibly supportive family,
02:14
I finally decided life was still worth living.
02:18
I became fascinated with using technology
02:23
to help the severely disabled.
02:25
Head tracking devices sold commercially
02:30
by the company Madentec
02:32
convert my tiny head movements
into cursor movements,
02:35
and enable my use of a regular computer.
02:39
I can surf the web, exchange email with people,
02:43
and routinely destroy my friend Steve Cousins
02:46
in online word games.
02:49
This technology allows me to remain engaged,
02:51
mentally active,
02:54
and feel like I am a part of the world.
02:56
One day, I was lying in bed watching CNN,
02:59
when I was amazed by Professor Charlie Kemp
03:03
of the Healthcare Robotics Lab at Georgia Tech
03:05
demonstrating a PR2 robot.
03:08
I emailed Charlie and
Steve Cousins of Willow Garage,
03:11
and we formed the Robots for Humanity project.
03:15
For about two years, Robots for Humanity
03:20
developed ways for me to use the PR2
03:23
as my body surrogate.
03:25
I shaved myself for the first time in 10 years.
03:28
From my home in California,
03:33
I shaved Charlie in Atlanta. (Laughter)
03:35
I handed out Halloween candy.
03:39
I opened my refrigerator on my own.
03:44
I began doing tasks around the house.
03:50
I saw new and previously unthinkable possibilities
03:54
to live and contribute,
03:57
both for myself and others in my circumstance.
04:00
All of us have disabilities in one form or another.
04:05
For example, if either of us
wants to go 60 miles an hour,
04:09
both of us will need an assistive device called a car.
04:15
Your disability doesn't make you
any less of a person,
04:20
and neither does mine.
04:23
By the way, check out my sweet ride. (Laughter)
04:26
Since birth, we have both suffered from the inability
04:30
to fly on our own.
04:33
Last year, Kaijen Hsiao of Willow Garage
04:36
connected with me Chad Jenkins.
04:40
Chad showed me how easy it is
04:43
to purchase and fly aerial drones.
04:45
It was then I realized that I could also use
04:49
an aerial drone to expand the worlds
04:52
of bedridden people through flight,
04:54
giving a sense of movement and control
04:57
that is incredible.
05:00
Using a mouse cursor I control with my head,
05:03
these web interfaces allow me
05:06
to see video from the robot
05:08
and send control commands
05:09
by pressing buttons in a web browser.
05:11
With a little practice, I became
good enough with this interface
05:15
to drive around my home on my own.
05:19
I could look around our garden
05:25
and see the grapes we are growing.
05:28
I inspected the solar panels on our roof. (Laughter)
05:32
One of my challenges as a pilot is to land the drone
05:38
on our basketball hoop.
05:41
I went even further by seeing if I could use
05:47
a head-mounted display, the Oculus Rift,
05:49
as modified by Fighting Walrus,
05:52
to have an immersive experience
05:54
controlling the drone.
05:56
With Chad's group at Brown,
06:00
I regularly fly drones around his lab
06:02
several times a week,
from my home 3,000 miles away.
06:04
All work and no fun makes for a dull quadriplegic,
06:10
so we also find time to play friendly games
06:14
of robot soccer. (Laughter)
06:17
I never thought I would be able to casually
06:20
move around a campus like Brown on my own.
06:23
I just wish I could afford the tuition. (Laughter)
06:28
Chad Jenkins: Henry, all joking aside,
06:36
I bet all of these people here
06:38
would love to see you fly this drone
06:41
from your bed in California 3,000 miles away.
06:43
(Applause)
06:46
Okay, Henry, have you been to D.C. lately?
06:57
(Laughter)
07:01
Are you excited to be at TEDxMidAtlantic?
07:04
(Laughter) (Applause)
07:08
Can you show us how excited you are?
07:15
(Laughter)
07:18
All right, big finish.
07:23
Can you show us how good of a pilot you are?
07:24
(Applause)
07:29
All right, we still have a little ways to go with that,
07:34
but I think it shows the promise.
07:36
What makes Henry's story amazing
07:39
is it's about understanding Henry's needs,
07:42
understanding what people in Henry's situation
07:45
need from technology,
07:48
and then also understanding
07:50
what advanced technology can provide,
07:51
and then bringing those two things together
07:54
for use in a wise and responsible way.
07:56
What we're trying to do is democratize robotics,
07:59
so that anybody can be a part of this.
08:01
We're providing affordable,
off-the-shelf robot platforms
08:03
such as the A.R. drone, 300 dollars,
08:06
the Suitable Technologies beam,
only 17,000 dollars,
08:09
along with open-source robotics software
08:13
so that you can be a part of what we're trying to do.
08:15
And our hope is that, by providing these tools,
08:18
that you'll be able to think of better ways
08:21
to provide movement for the disabled,
08:22
to provide care for our aging population,
08:24
to help better educate our children,
08:27
to think about what the new types
08:29
of middle class jobs could be for the future,
08:31
to both monitor and protect our environment,
08:34
and to explore the universe.
08:36
Back to you, Henry.
08:38
HE: Thank you, Chad.
08:42
With this drone setup, we show the potential
08:45
for bedridden people to once again be able
08:48
to explore the outside world,
08:50
and robotics will eventually provide
08:53
a level playing field
08:55
where one is only limited by their mental acuity
08:57
and imagination,
08:59
where the disabled are able to perform
09:02
the same activities as everyone else,
09:04
and perhaps better,
09:07
and technology will even allow us to provide
09:09
an outlet for many people who are presently
09:12
considered vegetables.
09:14
One hundred years ago,
09:17
I would have been treated like a vegetable.
09:19
Actually, that's not true.
09:22
I would have died.
09:24
It is up to us, all of us, to decide how
09:27
robotics will be used, for good or for evil,
09:30
for simply replacing people
09:33
or for making people better,
09:35
for allowing us to do and enjoy more.
09:36
Our goal for robotics is to
unlock everyone's mental power
09:40
by making the world more physically accessible
09:44
to people such as myself and others like me
09:46
around the globe.
09:49
With the help of people like you,
09:51
we can make this dream a reality.
09:53
Thank you.
09:56
(Applause)
09:59

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About the speaker:

Henry Evans - Robotics activist
In 2003, Henry Evans became quadriplegic and mute after a stroke-like attack. Now, working with Robots for Humanity, he's a pioneer in adaptive robotic tech to help him, and other disabled people like him, navigate the world.

Why you should listen

At age 40, Henry Evans was left mute and quadriplegic after a stroke-like attack caused by a hidden birth defect. Years of therapy helped him learn to move his head and use a finger -- which allows him to use a head-tracking device to communicate with a computer using experimental interfaces.

Now, Evans is a frequent and enthusiastic collaborator with robotics teams who are developing tools to help the severely disabled navigate their lives. He collaborates with Georgia Tech professor Charlie Kemp on using the Willow Garage PR2 robot as a surrogate, as well as Chad Jenkins' RLAB at Brown on quadrotors for expanding range of motion.

As the Willow Garage blog post says: "Every day, people take for granted the simple act of scratching an itch. In Henry's case, 2-3 times every hour of every day he gets an itch he can't scratch. With the aid of a PR2, Henry was able to scratch an itch for himself for the first time in 10 years."

More profile about the speaker
Henry Evans | Speaker | TED.com