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Robots Designed to Assist Seniors Get New Apartment

Dr Praminda Caleb-Solly (right) with two of the robots that will inhabit the studio. (Photo credit: UWE Bristol.)
Dr Praminda Caleb-Solly (right) with two of the robots that will inhabit the studio. (Photo credit: UWE Bristol.)

Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) recently launched a new facility to help robotics researchers develop and test technologies for assisting the elderly at home. The facility is modeled after a studio apartment, but far more high-tech. It is equipped with wireless sensors and cameras on a variety of features, such as cabinet doors, the fridge and sink. Data generated from the sensors is used to find patterns of activity in the house and build adaptable algorithms. The algorithms will be used to record individual habits to devise personalised robotic systems especially adapted to each person’s lifestyle to support independent living.

Making the spacey homey, the researchers say, is critical to ensuring the robotic systems will really be able to help seniors live independently as long as possible. Seniors will be invited to visit the Anchor Robotics Personalized Assisted Living (ARPAL) studio, so that the test conditions can be even more realistic.

“All of our work is centered on a deep understanding of the needs of people so that we shape the technology to respond appropriately. The facility has been constructed to standardized specifications so that robots and smart integrated devices can be rigorously tested and validated for safety and evaluated in conjunction with end users to ensure that they have a high level of utility and usability,” said Dr Praminda Caleb-Solly, theme leader for Assisted Living in the Bristol Robotics Lab and Head of Electronics and Computer Systems at Designability. “We are using the sensor data to build algorithms that learn the habits of an elderly person so that robots can offer timely and personalised assistance if, for example, someone forgets to eat, drink or take medicines.”

In one experiement, data from sensors is sent to a smart home controller hub. That data is then sent to a Cloud server and also processed locally, enabling a robot to react if something untoward happens. “For example, some medicines should only be taken after eating and if the algorithms analyzing the sensor information from the fridge, cooker, cupboard and kettle sensors, deem that there is a high probability that the person hasn’t had anything to eat for a while, then when the person opens the medicine drawer, a robot is then mobilized to remind the person to eat first before taking the medicine. This active reminder from a robot can be more interactive and engaging than, say a text message on a phone, which might even be in another room,” said Caleb Solly.

“We have also fitted the home with a telepresense robot that enables remote monitoring. If an alert is sent because there is no activity in the house during a certain time period, when habitual recorded algorithms would indicate a person would normally be up and about, an alert might be sent to the carer remotely who can try and contact the person via the usual channels, for example phone or text message. If there is no response from the person then the carer could activate the telepresence robot and see if there is a problem. If the person has had a fall or a heart attack for example appropriate emergency assistance can be deployed immediately and if they are able to, they can be reassured by the carer remotely while help arrives. This technology could avoid expensive triggering of emergency services when they are not needed but also ensures that they are deployed faster if necessary.”

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