New siblings for health care robots

Posted on December 6, 2011


Bollywood actress Malaika Arora Khan meets ‘Matilda’ during a campus visit earlier this year.

Matilda and Jack, NEC’S renowned communication robots based at La Trobe University, have welcomed two new siblings into their family.  

Prior to arriving in Australia the new robots , Charles and Sophie – named after Charles La Trobe and his first wife Sophie – spent eighty days travelling the world receiving modifications including an increase in size and a modern makeover before they reached their new home down under.

Dr Rajiv Khosla, Associate Professor in Management and Director of the Research Centre for Computers, Communication and Social Innovation (RECCSI), said that the new additions have been named Max and Mia.
Emotionally intelligent machines

The La Trobe centre conducts research into aged care and human resource management with its growing group of emotionally intelligent robots.  The new siblings will be used for trials in nursing homes as well as supporting elderly people in their own homes, says Dr Khosla. 

The project is a joint research venture between La Trobe University, Kyoto University in Japan and the global electronics giant, NEC Corporation.

Like Matilda and Jack – who featured on the ABC television’s ‘The New Inventors’ this year and have made various other television  appearances – the new companion robots will help elderly people remain independent and connected with their friends and the community in addition to reminding them about their daily activities and when to take their medications. 

Matilda’s new siblings Charles and Sophie

Tourism and education

Dr Khosla with Matilda

Dr Khosla says the rosy-cheeked robots can also read human emotions by analysing facial features and body language. They are wirelessly programmed to notify nurses if an elderly patient is distressed, injured or requires help.  They have so far been trialed in aged care facilities in regional (northern Queensland) and urban (Melbourne) Australia. 

To further develop their human communication skills, the four companion robots are now being partnered with a greater range of people with whom to interact.  They are being used to facilitate and conduct job interviews, serve as reminders, or have a chats with staff and students.  They have also been approached to feature in a 90 minute French documentary film ‘A World Beyond Humans?’  to be released in Europe in 2012.

RECCSI – supported by a million dollars in grants and contributions from its partners over three years – grew out of research into context-aware emotion-based systems and conversational informatics by Dr Khosla and Kyoto University’s Professor Toyoaki Nishida. Their collaboration involves, among other things, the measurement and analysis of conversational interactions.

The researchers are engaged in design of socially and emotionally intelligent systems which, apart from health and aged care, involve resource management, education, organisational innovation, travel and tourism.  (SS)
Read more , and see a video of the robots in action

More information about RECCSI