With the positively inclined changes in life expectancy across the world, technologies enhancing well-being of individuals, specifically for older people, are subject to a new stream of research and development.
With the increase in life expectancy we may see more of us struggle to find help in our later years and maybe there are just not enough humans helping other humans in combating loneliness, immobility, dullness and isolation. Everybody needs someone. As many of us have expected for long, robots seem to be the industrially applied kindhearted “individuals” best fit to shoulder this task when humans cannot be around.
You see, when there is a need, a possible market and a business opportunity, technology is always there to help (for one reason or another). With this said, we will dive right into an interesting initiative trying to add some glimmer to the lives of the old, the sick and the lonely. The ACCOMPANY (Acceptable Robotics Companions for Ageing Years) project is a pan-European project which focuses on home companion technologies. The project is all tied to a certain robotic platform which we will examine in a moment, after we have started out with some background description of the initiative.
When the project started out during late 2011 the researchers and backers set some aims for it. They wanted a system consisting of a robotic companion as part of an intelligent environment, providing services to elderly users in a motivating and socially acceptable manner to facilitate independent living at home, to borrow their own terminology. Moreover, the scientists wanted the system to provide physical, cognitive and social assistance in everyday home tasks. The envisaged relationship of the user with the robot is that of the co-learning kind. The vision is for the robot and the user to interact in harmony, which means that the technology should not be dominant but merely empower the user (which is a nice thought).
The ACCOMPANY project aims to progress beyond the state of the art in multiple areas. These areas span from empathic and social human-robot interaction to robot learning and memory visualization. Additionally, the project involves solutions for monitoring persons and chores at home, as well as technological integration of these multiple approaches on an existing robotic platform. Currently, this platform is called Care-O-Bot 3 (with a quite recently announced version 4 on the way) and acts the context of a smart-home environment utilizing a multitude of sensor arrays.
The pictures below illustrate versions three and four respectively, where the first picture is the real deal third generation and the second one is what the fourth generation will look like:
The prototypes of the social robot platform which supports independent living for the elderly (working in partnership with their relatives or keepers) have been developed by researchers at the University of Hertfordshire in England. According to the university, the project team has successfully carried out a wide range of studies in the University’s Robot House over the past three years. The progress has included detecting the activity and status of people in a smart-home environment as well as focusing on robots’ ability to remember and recall.
As hoped for when the project set out, the university reports that the results from conducted trials in France, the Netherlands and the UK demonstrated that a social robot can potentially help to prevent isolation and loneliness, offering stimulating activities whilst respecting autonomy and independence. Reportedly, the project received “excellent results” from its final review in Brussels.
The Daily Mail reports that the machine does far more than fetching and carrying. Just as the researchers wanted, it has been programmed to be a friend. This means that someone living alone can get emotional support, which has been said to count for a lot in numerous scientific studies. The robot is an outgoing companion that is also a motivational coach, this built in feature aims to activate people who otherwise might spend their day, parked in a chair in front of a TV and never socially interact with anyone. It will provide the social interaction, someone to talk to, might help people stave off loneliness and depression.The robot can also recognize an emergency and call for help if it is necessary, as well as providing a smiley face when a task has been successful and a worried one if the user has forgotten the medication.
Here is a quite astounding video of Care-o-Bot 3 in live action. If the scientists have accomplished this much up until now, our imagination begins to soar regarding what can be accomplished in a few years:
Actually, the researchers seem to be so confident in their current progression with version four of Care-o-Bot that they had a video put together showing the development and possible new abilities. We hope sincerely that this gentleman robot will be as amazing as they picture it being in the video: