"It's harder for his wife to get him out of bed than to shave him," said Steve Cousins, the CEO of Willow Garage. But being able to shave on his own "gives Henry a sense of dignity. This could be an extension of Henry's own body."
And there is the issue of safety. Evans has used the robot at Willow Garage's labs, not at home, and the robot has not been alone with him in a room.
"One of things that's really important is, How do we make this thing safe enough to be around somebody who literally can't defend himself?" said Cousins.
"Robots like those used in automobile factories now rely on the world being predictable," said Kemp. "With humans, who are less predictable, they need more intelligence. The robot needs to be softer, more compliant."
Cousins and Kemp said they hope that PR2 can be made more widely available in the next decade or so.
"We sell these for $400,000," said Cousins. "Henry is what we call an extreme user, meaning he has an extreme disability. There are a lot of people who have less disability, but still could use help. Say, if you fall down and break your ankle, you might be able to rent a robot for six weeks and have it go to the fridge for you."
Added Kemp, "Hopefully on the research side we can show this is feasible. I'm optimistic but I can't really say for certain. Let's say that if within 10 years there aren't robots out there doing things like this, I'll be disappointed."
Kemp and Evans have developed a partnership, working together both for research and practical benefit.
"We've worked with people with other physical disabilities," said Kemp. "But usually they'll come in and we'll do a study, they'll give us some good suggestions, but it's usually a short-term thing. With Henry, we're working with someone who's engaged throughout the whole process. It's exciting."
"When the robot scratched me for the first time, I remember thinking; 'the human mind can do whatever it wants,'" wrote Evans in his email. "I also remember thinking how wonderful the robot was, as well as the headtracker…. I also remember thinking, 'who said American innovation was dead?'"