Whenever we talk to older adults, they express one universal wish: they would prefer to age in their homes instead of moving into nursing homes. However, they are also aware that chronic illnesses like dementia would shatter this dream.

Thanks to a robot developed by scientists from Washington State University, this wish could become a reality. In this project still in the early stage of development researchers finalized a robot equipped with an activity support system. This system uses sensors embedded in a smart home built for research 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.

Researchers tested the system with the help of 26 student volunteers. They had to complete three activities in the smart home with the help of the robot: preparing to walk the dog, taking medication with food and water and watering plants. The smart home sensors detected if a human was struggling with one of the tasks, and the robot received a message. Then located the person in need and offered assistance through a tablet interface.

The persons in need could indicate if they wanted to see a video of the next step in their activity, a video of the entire action or they could ask the robot to lead them to objects needed to complete the operation: like a granola bar in the kitchen or the dog’s leash.

What’s next?

Although the project is still in an early stage of development, the initial results with the robotic system are promising. The next step in the research will be to test the robot’s performance with a group of older adults to get a better idea of what inputs, video reminders and other preferences they have regarding the robot. The students involved in the trial rated the robot’s performance favorably. According to this young group of people, the next step video gave them the most useful info in the test.

Author: Zoltan Gelencser