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Novel Smart Home Robot May Help Older Adults Live Independently

The robot uses its mapping and navigation camera, sensors and software to find the person and offer assistance.

Published
Digital Health
2 min read
Scientists have created a robot that could help elderly people with dementia and other limitations live independently in smart homes.
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Scientists have created a robot that could help elderly people with dementia and other limitations live independently in smart homes.

The Robot Activity Support System (RAS) uses sensors embedded in a smart home to determine where its residents are, what they are doing and when they need assistance with daily activities.

It navigates through rooms and around obstacles to find people on its own, provides video instructions on how to do simple tasks and can even lead its owner to objects like their medication or a snack in the kitchen.

"RAS combines the convenience of a mobile robot with the activity detection technology of a WSU smart home to provide assistance in the moment, as the need for help is detected," said Bryan Minor, a postdoctoral researcher at Washington State University (WSU) in the US.

With the number of adults over 85 expected to triple by 2050, researchers hope that technologies like RAS and smart homes will alleviate some of the financial strain on the healthcare system by making it easier for older adults to live alone.

"Upwards of 90 per cent of older adults prefer to age in place as opposed to moving into a nursing home," said Diane Cook, a professor at WSU.

"We want to make it so that instead of bringing in a caregiver or sending these people to a nursing home, we can use technology to help them live independently on their own," Cook said.

Researchers recruited 26 undergraduate and graduate students to complete three activities in a smart home with RAS as an assistant. The activities were getting ready to walk the dog, taking medication with food and water and watering household plants.

When the smart home sensors detected a human failed to initiate or was struggling with one of the tasks, RAS received a message to help.

The robot then used its mapping and navigation camera, sensors and software to find the person and offer assistance.

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The person could then indicate through a tablet interface that they wanted to see a video of the next step in the activity they were performing, a video of the entire activity or they could ask the robot to lead them to objects needed to complete the activity like the dog’s leash or a granola bar from the kitchen.

Afterwards the study participants were asked to rate the robot's performance. Most of the participants rated RAS' performance favourably and found the robot's tablet interface to be easy to use.

"While we are still in an early stage of development, our initial results with RAS have been promising," Minor said.

"The next step in the research will be to test RAS' performance with a group of older adults to get a better idea of what prompts, video reminders and other preferences they have regarding the robot," he said.

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