It’s a development that is already underway in Japan and now it looks as though care robots for the elderly, infirm and other patients in need of home assistance could soon debut in the USA. Washington State University scientists have developed and are testing a robo-carer named RAS, for Robot Activity Support System.
It is hoped that new generations of smart, mobile assistants hooked up to smart homes will help alleviate the expense of providing home care for an ageing global population. The RAS system is able to determine the location of its patients in the home, what they are doing and when they need assistance with a regular activity.
RAS has been developed in the lab of Diane Cook, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science. She is also the director of the WSU Center for Advanced Studies in Adaptive Systems and together with Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, a professor of psychology at WSU, has been working on the latest technology in the world of smart home ecosystems. However, the smart domestic technology that Cook and Schmitter-Edgecombe are focused on is not that targeting simple convenience. Their research and development is aimed at adults with brain degeneration conditions such as dementia or other memory problems and factors that make living alone difficult.
An array of sensors allows RAS to move around a home navigating furniture and other potential obstacles. It is able to locate its patient and prompt them to do things such as take their medication or make themselves something to eat. Those prompts are supported by video instructions on how to complete these simple tasks. A visual reminder can remind and reassure patients that they know how to complete tasks which, unsupported, often worry or confuse them.
Bryan Minor, who works in Cook’s lab, commented for ScienceDaily:
“RAS combines the convenience of a mobile robot with the activity detection technology of a WSU smart home to provide assistance in the moment, as the need for help is detected.”
Testing has involved a team of 26 students tasked with completing 3 activities in a smart home supported by a RAS robot. The three were preparing to take a dog for a walk, taking medication along with food and water and watering plants. When the system detects one of the three tasks is being initiated by the test patient or difficulties are being encountered with them the RAS is notified assistance is required. When the robot finds the test patient its tablet interface allows them to request a video demonstration of how to complete the next step in the task or to lead them to items involved such as the dog’s leash or food in the kitchen.
With the number of over 85s in the USA forecast to triple by 2050, a trend expected to be mirrored in other developed nations, new technology such as the RAS system will become increasingly key to their care. 90% of elderly adults have a strong preference for remaining in their own home rather than into full time care. The next step in RAS’s testing will involve a test group of older adults.