Monkey Helpers: Our Future hand with virtual reality butterfly
Our Future

Monkey Helpers: Our Future

Who We Are and Where
We’re Going

It sounded rather strange in 1979, train capuchin monkeys to be service animals for adults living with physical disabilities such as spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and other severely limiting mobility issues. Now, over 40 years later, Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers can proudly say that hundreds of men and women live more independent and engaged lives because of these little capuchin monkeys. As one of the first nonhuman personal assistants, these capuchin monkeys were trained to help with specific daily tasks. These monkeys were provided to individuals and their families, free of charge, as highly trained and unique personal assistants. Monkey Helpers: our future – today, as each monkey leaves service, HH continues to provide the highest level of care for the monkey until the end of the animal’s natural life.

As an organization dedicated to working with those living with disabilities and bringing humans and animals together, we can look at our history with great pride. Now, HH is in an exciting transition phase. We have ceased training and placing monkeys as service animals due both to great advances in technology that provide resources far beyond what a tiny capuchin can offer, and a number of federal and state laws prohibiting primates in homes. Instead, we are transitioning to an action tank by undertaking a number initiatives. These initiatives will allow us to continue to service the disability community by providing resources through the utilization of robotics, Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

HH is looking to take the 40+ years of experience, intellectual property, and insights it has gained in service to the disability community through our nonhuman personal assistants and offer it in collaboration with robotic, AR, VR and AI research organizations, firms and service providers. HH is confident that such collaboration will allow robotic and enhanced reality technologies to advance and provide ever-increasing physical, emotional, and psychological independence to people living with a disability.

Monkey Helpers: our future - virtual reality headset

Imagine something that looks like an animal, smells like an animal, responds like a friend or a teacher, and is as easy to care for as your phone.

Imagine a child on the autism spectrum who can’t have a pet but needs a way to learn about caring and connecting. Can we help children like this foster friendships and reduce the potential for loneliness and resulting negative outcomes.

Imagine a prisoner in solitary confinement who would enrich their humanity as a result of nurturing a virtual pet.

Imagine an elderly widow very much alone who would love to have an animal companion but isn’t physically capable of caring for it.

Imagine being able to use the therapeutic values of a human/animal connection to mitigate or help prevent anxiety and stress, depression and hopelessness, anger, irritability, hostility, panic attacks, poor impulse control, social withdrawal, outbursts of violence, psychosis, self-harm or suicide.

Helping Hands is known for our work in the disability community and for our work training nonhuman caregivers (monkeys) to work with humans. We will now take this knowledge and apply it to the use of technology to help individuals with disabilities live better lives. With the constant, rapid advances in technology, HH does not know exactly where such collaboration with robotics, AR, VR and AI groups will take us. However, at Monkey Helpers, our journey over the next couple of decades will open up horizons that cannot be imagined today. We know that in that process, perceptions we may have today may be proven accurate, unrealistic or be totally transformed through the collaborative process. However, at the outset of our exciting journey, here are some of HH’s initial thoughts about where the journey may lead.

Monkey Helper: our future - robot holding a wheelchair

As technology advances, HH envisions that robotics will increasingly play a larger role in providing nonhuman personal assistants to people with disabilities. At the outset, HH knows that its knowledge and observations can be of great benefit to research organizations and technology firms in these areas to better understand how disabled individuals interact with nonhuman personal assistants in a productive manner.

Moreover, as technology progresses, HH believes that increasingly there will be a convergence between robotics and machine learning/AI. The robots will need first to be “trained” to provide the services needed. However, as both robotics and machine learning/AI are combined, those nonhuman personal assistants will be able to adjust to the specific needs of their client. HH has 40 years of intellectual property and experience in the training of nonhuman personal assistants to provide service to the disability community. Moreover, HH is probably one of the only, if not the only, organization with insights into how the nonhuman assistant “learned” from its interactions with a disabled individual and adapted how it provided its service to the individual while still providing the parameters of services as it was trained.

As robotics and AI technologies advance and converge, HH believes that its knowledge and observations can be of great benefit to research organizations and technology firms to better understand that dynamic of adaptation by the nonhuman personal assistant to the individual needs of the disabled person while maintaining the safety and efficacy of service provision.

Monkey Helpers: our future -

HH has always looked with great admiration and appreciation to organizations that are striving to find cures for injury- and disease-related causes of immobility. We look to continue to complement those heroic efforts through addressing quality-of-life issues for disabled individuals. HH sees the profusion of firms within the AR and VR areas as offering a great potential for the disabled community included but not limited to:

• neurological rehabilitation;

• experiential opportunities that can provide some degree of temporary “independence” of movement and engagement with the community at large; and

• training and employment potential that need not be tied to a specific location.

However, based on its 40 years of experience, HH also knows that on the day-to-day level, dealing with immobility disabilities can weigh down an individual on the physical, emotional and psychological levels. We have direct experience and understanding of this challenge. In our decades of relationships with clients, we have worked with and learned from them as they struggled through various stages of their disability:

• newly disabled due to disease or injury;

• striving to obtain as much quality of life as possible;

• coming to terms with plateauing and reversals in their progress through either a relapse or physical/technological limitations; and

• end-of-life issues.

HH looks to partner with AR and VR groups to apply its understanding of the unique life cycle needs and issues of immobility for disabled individuals as these firms develop and offer their technology and services in an effort to provide increasing opportunities for various degrees of independence and engagement with the wider community.

These are only a few of the areas HH envisions participating in as we look at the next generation of service provision for the disability community. That is why HH is so excited to collaborate with other groups to test these ideas; determine the viabilities; and, imagine and develop opportunities that we have not even begun to imagine as we begin this journey. We welcome you to join HH’s journey to the future.

Monkey Helpers: our future -  digital & human hands touching

Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers (HH) has been providing quality of life services to individuals with spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and other disabilities for over 40 years.

We are now embarking on an exciting transition that will allow us to continue to serve individuals within the disability community in an innovative manner. As part of this transition, HH is in the process of developing collaborative strategic relations with research institutes, technology firms, complementary service providers, and funders involved in finding cures and providing service to the disability community.

At Monkey Helpers, our future with such collaborative partners, will enable us to apply our 40 years of intellectual property, experience, insights and networks to inculcate our knowledge into the next generation of service provision to the disability community. Please let us know if you and your organization are interested in exploring such potential collaboration.

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