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Robot Gives Disabled Dining Freedom

Ann Thompson
Obi, a robot to feed those who cannot feed themselves, is no bigger than a place setting

DES?N, with offices in Dayton and Michigan, is introducing  Obi™ the robotic dining companion.

For inventor Jon Dekar it was a very personal decade long project. While in high school volunteering, he watched the disabled struggle as well as his own grandfather who slowly lost the ability to feed himself. "You know, it's one of life's basic needs and it's also a fundamental freedom. It's a very intimate personal experience."

Fifty-six year old ALS patient David Hare became very emotional when using Obi initially. He says, "My wife made a video of me using it for the first time just to show all of my friends. She didn't like the video and wanted to redo it but I couldn't because I was crying. I was so happy I could feed myself. I couldn't tell you what it meant."

David Hare has been testing the robot for over a year. He also enjoys taking it to restaurants where he says chefs have been more than willing to cut up the food and put it on the specialized plate. He says, "One of my goals is I hope one day in the future that every restaurant in America has an Obi."

Inventor Jon Dekar says, "Obi lets the diner select between four compartments of food and also commands when that food is captured and delivered to their mouth. And then all the other sophisticated actions are automated, so portion control, food capture, and spoon scraping."

Obi costs $4500. DES?N says it will work with the user's family on the price.

Dozens of switches allow users of many disabilities to control Obi, including one if the patient can only blink his or her eyelids.

Obi, short for obeisance, has a little bit of whimsy to it. It bows to the user before each meal.

This story was originally published 8-1-2016.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.