Robot carers to provide support for the elderly

The EU-funded MOBISERV project has been designed to enhance quality of life for older people within the next two or three years.

Is there really a need for robot carers?

Populations all over the world are growing older. As the requirement for elderly and specialist care increases, the burden falls to caregivers, most often family members or partners. The MOBISERV robot will be able to provide an essential level of care and support to both the elderly and their caregivers. “What we are seeing is that carers may also need additional support themselves… our vision is that technology can provide it,” said Mr Herjan van den Heuvel of The Dutch Expertise Centre on Home Automation and Smart Living, who oversaw the development process for MOBISERV.

With stats like the percentage of people aged 80 and over being expected to triple by 2060, the requirement for caregiving relief is only going to increase.

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The science behind caregiving

The robot, a highly customisable and semi-humanoid figure, is equipped with a camera, sensors, audio capabilities and a touch screen interface.  The robot is able to use these attributes to perform duties such as reminding users to take medicine or prompting them to engage in exercise and make social engagements.

By interacting with wearable technology and smart fabrics, the robot will also be able to monitor vital life signs. If anything is wrong then it can act as an automatic safeguard by calling the emergency services.  The robot can also learn to engage with users at relevant times, providing suggestions and interaction via the touchscreen interface. For users with cognitive recognition difficulties, the robot can add to a healthier and more active life. “It lacks arms so it’s not going to make you a coffee but it is going to suggest that maybe you would like a coffee or some other drink if you haven’t drunk anything in a while,” explained Mr Van den Heuvel.

All of the bio-data is procured via smart technology, which can be used on everything from garments to bed sheets, and utilise wireless sensors to monitor a whole range of sources. The smart sensors are tiny and light-weight, sensitive enough to detect a sleeping pattern and robust enough to detect a fall. When used in conjunction along with the rest of the ‘smart-home’ range, the robot can provide an astounding level of care for those most in need. The smart-home range can include a variety of smart sensors, optical recognition units and automation features. Other monitoring can include eating and drink patterns, activity levels and high-risk situations.

“The system can be used in its entirety for someone who needs extensive care, or only some components of it can be used to suit the needs of each individual,” said Mr Herjan van den Heuvel.

How widespread will the robots be?

So far the MOBISERV robot is being received positively. The comfort it provides for users living alone, as well as the cognitive aid, is being recognised by both users and care givers. Currently the robots cost around €10,000 per unit to build but as with all innovation, the price will lower by half to a predicted €5,000 within two years as production increases. Currently the MOBISERV partners are looking for additional funding to further develop the design.

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