This is why robot expert and IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) member, Antonio Espingardeiro, is currently working on an assistive robot that will be able to look after vulnerable groups such as the elderly. Currently in prototype stage, the P37 robot aims to provide cognitive assistance, supervision, entertainment and companionship.
Espingardeiro says, “Some people suffer from huge cognitive limitations with ageing increase. They forget about time, they forget about taking medicine, they forget about very important tasks. I want to create a robot that provides cognitive assistance, such as medication reminders. The same principle is applied to task reminders for example. People forget when to eat and this is a very serious scenario.”
We think this system could be adopted in the future by the NHS to check if someone is okay. It is not a substitute for a GP it is an extension of the GPs capabilities
The humanoid robot is 5.4 ft high and weighs 30 pounds. It has a torso and a head though Espingardeiro is keen not to make the robot resemble a human too closely.
He says, “What I have found so far is that people don’t want robots that look too human. What I’m trying to create is a balance between something that is very ugly and full of wires and something that has anthropomorphic elements.”
Espingardeiro is also fitting the robot with a telepresence system to allow doctors and nurses to communicate with the patient remotely.
He says, “One of the most distressing experiences I have been sharing with these people is that they have to travel to all these locations. It’s very tiring and sometimes they can only have ten minutes with the person. So we think this system could be adopted in the future by the NHS to check if someone is okay. It is not a substitute for a GP it is an extension of the GPs capabilities.”
Espingardeiro is keen to overcome all potential problems. For example, voice activation would be useful to order the robot to do certain actions but if the elderly person is unable to speak he is planning to install a barcode system into the robot – if the patient is unsure what medication to take, for example, he/she could scan a bottle of medicine and the robot could tell you what it is and when to take it.
I want to create a robot that provides cognitive assistance, such as medication reminders
The robot will be able to monitor the elderly person 24 hours a day if they live alone, which is much a safer than having a nurse come in twice a day. If, for example, the person had a fall the robot could contact the emergency services straight away. Espingardeiro also wants the robot to prevent certain situations.
He says, “I’m also developing a system that can detect the person’s gait. If he/she is not walking like they you used to the robot can alert the authorities who go there and physically check out the person.”
For those with visions of a dystopian future where the vulnerable and elderly have only robots for company, it seems Espingardeiro’s goal is not to replace humans with artificial intelligence but to enhance the care system’s ability to cope with the ever increasing number of elderly.