Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Say hello to your life saver

It may seem hard to imagine that this robot, with its ridiculous balloon-shaped head and a tablet computer strapped to the front, might possibly mean the difference between life and death.

Yet if you were elderly and unwell, or recovering from a serious operation, it just might. The robot is designed to work with you to share certain information – such as your heart rate, eating habits and even whether you have taken your medication – with your family, doctor and other carers. It can summon help if it notes unusual behaviour. And in extreme situations – say if you had a heart attack or stroke – it is planned that future models could even take control of the situation. 
As part of their research for the European FP7 programme, researchers at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory were, according to project leader Dr Praminda Caleb-Solly, “exploring embodiments” – an important part of how to make the domestic care robot’s interface more friendly for older adults who might not feel comfortable with technology.

“Mobiserv” was a European research project on smart technology that ran from 2009 to 2013. The aim was to develop robots, smart clothing, activity recognition systems and even smart medicine bottles to assist older people to maintain active, independent lives.

“What we found is that people want to be able to customise and personalise the robot by such means as changing the way it speaks, for instance giving it a cheeky character, making it hum while working and even giving it a smell,” says Caleb-Solly. But she says the negative portrayal of robots in popular culture is a problem –people may simply be alarmed by robo-helpers. “For example if you suddenly found the robot by the side of your bed in the night because you’d had a heart attack, demonstrating some degree of intelligence and taking control when you are not able to.” With more field-testing Caleb-Solly and her team hope to fine tune the robot to optimise their usefulness around the house in a range of situations.

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