KU researcher customizes robot to serve the elderly in their own homes

KU researcher customizes robot to serve the elderly in their own homes

K-SERA is an acronym that stands for
Knowledgeable Service Robots for Aging. The project is designed to implement the use,
in the home, of a small robot that can facilitate all things that a human
needs to get along in the world, particularly if the human is showing some
signs of disability associated with aging. I’m Jim Juola. I’ve been a Professor of Psychology here at the
University of Kansas since 1972. The aging population is increasing enormously. We get a much larger percentage of the population age 65 and older and 85 and older. About half the people over the age of 85 are showing definite signs of dementia. So this is a large segment of our population that’s increasing. Now the robot is designed to be a personal assistant, okay, and one of the first things that it will have to do is to track and follow the human and be available to it. So it’s being trained to recognize a certain individual and to be constantly at hand as an aid to communication, as an aid to reminding people things they need to do like taking their medicine, or having a drink of water. And also as a communications link, an immediate communications link, with medical personal or family members
in case the user needs assistance. The robot is very small. It’s about two and a half feet tall. We’ve purchased it from a company in France called Aldebaran and the robot itself is called Nao. And the reason we chose this robot is because, first of all it’s programmable, and it’s completely autonomous. It doesn’t need any outside control, although it can be linked with computer systems of various sorts and sensor systems in the persons home. But also it has some minimal linguistic capability in multiple languages so that is, as soon as it comes out of the box, it will in fact unravel and stretch itself and say, “Ah, that was tight in there.” And so it does speak and the language capabilities are programmable so that it immediately behaves as if it is a communication device, an intelligent robot. Well I’m working with two Ph.D. students at the Eindhoven University of Technology. One is involved mainly in the aspects of navigation, that is walking around a room, avoiding obstacles, being at a socially acceptable distance from the human. People don’t like robots to be in their face, okay. There is actually an acceptable social distance both for communicating with people and with robots. For detecting gaze, the important aspect here is for the robot to know what you’re attending to. If you’re attending to the robot, you look at the robot, the robot knows that, and the robot returns the gaze and is ready to communicate. If you’re looking at something else the robot tries to identify what it is you’re looking at by interpreting the direction of your gaze. In the robot’s case, when you address it you have some intention, you want a glass of water, you want to call your son, you want to send in a medical record, you want to be reminded of what medicine you’re supposed to take. That’s an idea in your head, you speak it, if the robot understands it and acts appropriately then you’ve had a successful communication. You know, if a person does anything unusual like oversleep, or stay too long in the bathroom, or fall down or something like that, the robot will be attentive to these unusual
aspects of a person’s behavior and actually form inquiries and if necessary, interventions, to call attention to the fact the a persons having a problem. We will actually install this robot in a couple of
test environments within a year These will be in hospital situations, nursing home situations, and eventually in the home. As far as its general availability I’d say we’re about five years away.

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