Domestic robot helps sick elderly live independently longer

Eindhoven 22 April 2010To enable elderly people to live at home as long as possible, a group of European researchers, co-ordinated from Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), will link robots and 'smart homes'. The robot, a 'sensible family friend', will ensure that home is a nice place to stay. And that patients do the right things. The recently started research project, which has been named KSERA - Knowledgeable Service Robots for Aging - focuses in particular on COPD patients, people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In 2030 this disease will be the third cause of death worldwide, according to expectations of the World Health Organization. The disease especially affects old-aged people.


In three years several demonstration houses should be finished. They will be equipped with a robot and the domestic systems of a 'smart home' - think of self-opening curtains. The central role is played by the 'domestic robot'. It follows patients through the house, learns their habits, watches them closely, gives sound advice, turns the air conditioning up or down a bit, and warns a doctor when the patient is not doing well. In addition, the robot also provides entertainment in the form of the Internet and videos. "We want to show what is possible in this area", stated project co-ordinator dr. Lydia Meesters about the goal of the project.

The TU/e researcher, from the Department of Industrial Engineering and Innovation Sciences, emphasizes that this new type of intelligent care house will not be a cold environment. "It should be as homely as possible. In an ideal situation the only technology you see will be the robot. It will be the contact for all the domestic systems. Otherwise the place will just look very homely."

To achieve all this, a number of European parties will be conducting research in the next few years. For instance, dr. ir. Raymond Cuijpers, also from TU/e, will study how a robot should communicate so that a human being understands it and vice versa. This must be done in a natural way, which will only be possible if a robot really understands the patient's wishes. It must be smart and able to anticipate. KSERA will also link up with the TU/e-led project RoboEarth, which is going to build a kind of global central memory for robots. This will enable robots to learn from each other, for instance to communicate better with people.

Ethical issues will also be given special attention. The robot must give good advice to patients, but it should not be a policeman, dr. Lydia Meesters explained. What to do, for example, when a COPD patient lights a cigarette? And what may the robot system pass on to 'the central operator', and what not? Dr. Lydia Meesters stated: "We need to define clear limits, for the robot will continuously measure and see very private data."

The project has a total budget of almost 4 million euro, 2,9 million of which will be furnished by the European Union. Other parties involved are the Italian research centre Institute Superiore Mario Boella, Vienna University of Technology, Hamburg University, the Italian ICT company Consoft, the Central European Institute of Technology in Vienna and the Israeli care provider Maccabi Healthcare Services. The demonstration houses will be located at the two last-mentioned parties.

More information about the RoboEarth project is available in this VMW issue's article European collaboration seeks to create 'World Wide Web' for robots.

Source: Eindhoven University of Technology

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