Social robots aim to revolutionise aged care

Posted on January 18, 2013

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khosla-robots_Larger2 CROP

Ready for the trial: two of the robots, Charles and Sophie, compare notes

Four rosy-cheeked ‘social robots’– Charles, Sophie, Matilda and Jack – are being used in a world-first trial to increase the quality of life for patients with mild dementia. 

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

‘These assistive robots,’ says Professor Rajiv Khosla, ‘are expected to improve the emotional well-being of mild dementia sufferers through engagement and sensory enrichment.’

Professor Khosla is lead researcher of the project and Director of La Trobe’s Research Centre for Computers, Communication and Social Innovation. Provided by NEC, Japan, the robots, have been designed by Professor Khosla’s team for service and social innovation in health care.

‘They can talk, sing, dance, play games, tell the weather and read the newspaper.  They are unique, the first of their kind to be used therapeutically for mild dementia sufferers,’ says Professor Khosla.

The trial will also study the robots’ impact on the quality of life of care-givers

Innovative carers

‘They provide innovative services like reminiscing with dementia suffers, sending “mood based emails” and supporting care-givers to remotely manage activities of dementia sufferers.

‘The social robots can also make phone calls and remind patients to take their medicine. Senior citizens with mild dementia can communicate with the social robots using their voice or a touch panel with large buttons. The touch panel allows remote communication with the robot at home.

‘Robots will interact with participants and measure their social response by detecting changes in emotional state of participants,’ says Professor Khosla. ‘We believe these robots will help the dementia sufferers to gain confidence in daily life and reduce feelings of uselessness.’

Trial in Melbourne homes

The trial is being held in Melbourne.  Each robot will be placed in the home of one dementia sufferer for two weeks. The emotional well-being of each participant will be measured by their responses to the robot, as well as surveys before and near the end of the trial.

Professor Khosla: emotionally engaging services

The trial will also study the impact on the quality of life of care-givers involved in supporting dementia suffers. It  is funded by a $40,000 Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia Research Foundation grant.

Co-investigators in the project include aged-care researcher Professor Yvonne Wells and specialist in management information systems, Dr Mei-Tai Chu.

Professor Khosla says the trial has attracted national and international interest.  Last year the robots starred in a French documentary film entitled ‘A World Beyond Humans?’ and featured on the ABC’s ‘New Inventors‘ program.

‘Social robots could revolutionise the way we look after older people with dementia.  The robots are already breaking technology barriers and are set to provide more sophisticated and emotionally engaging services to help senior citizens become more independent and resilient,’ says Professor Khosla.  – Dian Lipiarski

See also: New siblings for health care robots