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When we picture assisted living homes, many of us imagine older seniors being wheeled around by caregivers. In countries like Japan, Germany, and the United States, rapidly aging populations are quickly outpacing the number of individuals entering caregiving professions. Social isolation, physical handicaps, and mobility issues challenge many individuals during their twilight years. Impressive developments in robotics, however, will likely alleviate many of these problems, likely within the coming decades. The following projects offer a few interesting insights into the rapidly-changing world of assisted living robotics.
OhmniLabs’ Telepresence Robot
According to a 2014 Pew Research Center study, up to four in ten older seniors don’t even use the internet. For those who have limited experience with computers and the internet, simpler user interfaces may required. A robot developed by OhmniLabs seeks to connect seniors in assisted living facilities with their families and friends without burdening them with complicated technology. With a screen for a head and wheels to make it mobile, the OhmniLabs home telepresence robot simplifies the process of making video calls, making it possible for individuals to feel as though they are in the same room as their loved ones. The developer states that the robot will be able to wash dishes, clean the home, and do laundry within the next five years. Such a robot would cost just 20% of the rate of hiring a full-time caregiver. This practical robot will likely undergo a number of fascinating transformations in the years to come.
Rendever’s Virtual Reality Headset
Though not quite a robot, a virtual reality headset developed by Rendever, an MIT startup, is another delightful tool for enhancing seniors’ lives. The device currently uses Google Maps imagery and 360-degree films to take seniors with limited mobility on virtual tours. The headset allows users to visit their old family homes and travel to far-off corners of the globe. In addition to providing sensory stimulation, the headset can be an invaluable tool for dementia patients, who may be able to tap into lost memories through use of the device. Additional sensory tools will likely enhance such VR headsets in the future, making them even more invaluable to handicapped and immobile individuals.
Blue Frog’s BUDDY
BUDDY is just what you’d imagine a companion robot would look like. With a beaming screen for a face and round little feet, BUDDY has the ability to monitor your home, remind you of tasks and appointments, create playlists, answer your phone, and relay video calls between you and your loved ones. Particularly important to seniors may be the robot’s fall detection technology and medication reminder feature. With a price tag of roughly $750, this robot offers many practical features for a very fair price. Whether this robot will transform the lives of seniors and everyday consumers remains to be seen.
IBM’s Multi-Purpose Eldercare Robot Assistant (MERA) is a prototype robot currently in development in Austin, Texas. This mobile robot is equipped with sensors that can perceive changes in audio, motion, and scent, allowing it to detect potentially dangerous situations. MERA is able to sense when an individual has fallen down or accidentally left their stove on. Cameras and speech recognition software are used to read facial expressions and discern calls for help. Sensors can even be used to track vital signs. By supporting the wellness and safety of seniors, robots like MERA have the potential to truly transform the lives of adults living alone and in retirement communities.
Hasbro’s Companion Pets
Noticing that its line of FurReal children’s toys were being purchased by seniors as well as by children, Hasbro set its sights on creating a more realistic robotic pet for the elderly. With no screens and no internet connectivity, Hasbro seeks to keep its virtual pets as similar to real animals as possible. The brand’s robotic Golden Retriever barks. The Joy for All Companion Cat purrs in response to human touch. For seniors who may be unable to care for pets or live with them in a pet-free facility, such robots have the potential to assuage loneliness and promote peace and relaxation.
When will assisted living robots become a part of our daily lives? That question is difficult to answer. Known for its robotic innovations and growing senior population, Japan may become the first major adopter of such devices. From there, the technology will likely spread to much of the developed world. Non-mobile personal assistants like Google Home and Amazon Echo have already proven themselves to be both practical and popular. By adding assisted living functionalities, these technologies have the potential to change millions of lives for the better.
Photo: © Shweta / fotolia.de