Antonio Espingardeiro, PhD student at the University of Salford talks to AZoRobotics about the P37 S65 Elderly Care Robot.
KK - What are the main concerns with living longer and caring for the elderly?
AE - According to the latest report from United Nations “Department of Economic and Social affairs” we have an ageing phenomenon upon us. As worldwide populations grow older we also see a decrease of young people prepared to take care of elderly groups.
From a different perspective, we also have to consider the fact that economic resources and social policies dealing with care probably have to undergo modifications in the current and near future.
In 2011 we had and old age dependency ratio of 11 people for 100 active individuals. This means that for 11 people over 65 (pensioners), we had 100 people (ages between 20-64) working and therefore generating wealth for covering social care and health benefits, a number that is likely to increase over the next decade so we will have more elderly people dependent on active population.
We want to live longer, that is beautiful and a natural desire in our evolutionary scale, but on the same spectrum we have to create the conditions for living with human dignity and quality of life. That’s why I’m developing assistive technologies.
KK - Can you briefly discuss the main aims of your latest research?
AE - My research investigates how the use of Social Assistive Robots (SARs) could improve the standards of care. It covers ethical issues involved in Human Robotics Interactions (HRIs) with elderly groups and provides Roboethics guidelines for developing robotics technologies such as the P37 S65.
KK - What are the main components to the P37 S65 robot?
AE - It involves a mixture of computing power (software), electronics and mechanics. The robot has some anthropomorphic elements that reinforce the HRI such as head and arms coupled with a tray for transporting goods.
KK - How is this robot designed to remind the elderly to take their medication and exercise?
AE - The robot has a touch interface on its chest. A caregiver can program the robot using a virtual keyboard for programming the elderly medications and tasks.
The robot runs Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms that will advertise the elderly and their caregivers about their medications or daily exercises.
The P37 S65 Elderly Care Robot. Image courtesy of University of Salford.
KK - Is this robot specifically designed to help only the elderly suffering from conditions that would result in extreme memory impairment?
AE - I designed this robot for everyone that needs cognitive assistance. It works with my grandparents’ generation, parents’ generation and my generation.
The robot can recognise faces and remind all the family about their daily tasks.
KK - How will the applications of this robot for elderly care affect the way carers and practitioners operate their services?
AE - P37 S65 represents an extension of human capabilities in the exercise of care. The robot acts as a tool for caregivers and relatives when delivering care.
Shortage of staff is a common issue, the dedication to certain individuals and care is another challenge.
Managing different peoples’ requirements and preferences could be empowered by the use of SARs when it comes to supervision, cognitive assistance and entertainment. Thereby, the use of SARs could make the job of caregivers much more efficient and improve the quality of life of elderly users.
KK - It could be said that this method of elderly care is insensitive and removes the emotional contact that an elder may develop with his/her carer. Would you agree?
AE - Agree and disagree. By one hand we need to extend ourselves in terms of care to deal with the ageing phenomenon.
With our current ageing rates, the traditional care systems are likely to struggle in the future. What we have to achieve is a hybrid care strategy where we organize humans and assistive technologies for delivering care.
Machines can supervise elderly individuals 24 hours a day, never get bored, can provide new forms of interaction and entertainment.
Humans are great on emotional intelligence and connecting with people, understanding their problems and requirements.
The question here is about ourselves and how do we deliver SARs to calibrate our time and quality of human interactions between caregivers and care receivers. That’s an exercise that we all have to try to answer.
KK - How will this robot improve the quality of life for the elderly requiring its services?
AE - The robot allows caregivers, relatives and even GPs to contact elderly people through the robot itself.
This robot uses telerobotics technology which can be translated in a set of advantages when contacting the elderly for establishing routine conversations (several times per day) or establishing periodic health checks without the need of travelling long distances.
In terms of caregivers supervision methods, the medications prescriptions can be remotely supervised so health professionals can make sure that the elderly take their medications at the right time.
Cognitive assistance will provide extra help with timetables or daily tasks for people suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s.
The robot advertises elderly people, caregivers and families when their medications and exercises are due.
This robot can also monitor people relatively to their walking patterns and trigger emergency alerts. Beyond such functionalities I have also developed an entertainment module so that caregivers can program the robot with jokes, songs and cultural games for entertaining elderly groups.
KK - What routine health interventions will be programmed for this robot?
AE - Anything ranging from personal appointments, shopping lists, to periodic healthcare checks such as having a video conference with your GP.
I predict a mainstream use of health checks by caregivers towards medications and task reminders and possibly physiological body readings that can be stored and further analysed by the robot and GPs.
KK - Is there a back-up programme for this robot in the event of system failure?
AE - The system is designed in the way that caregivers and robots share the responsibility in the exercise of care.
The future points to robot operators and caregivers working together to make sure that the care is delivered with high quality and at the right time.
In the case of uncertainty the machine will advertise the caregiver or robot operator asking for human intervention.
This robot runs a “box” log system recording all actions triggered by artificial intelligence and human users. In this way I can check what went wrong and improve the system response in the future.
KK - What are the challenges that you have faced when developing this robot?
AE - I performed an ethnographic study in care and extra care institutions in the UK. I wanted to understand the real challenges involved in elderly care. Then I started working on the robotic solution which involved the integration of many areas: software, electronics, mechanics, Roboethics and social care.
Such integration opened new ways of thinking technically and philosophically when it comes to Robotics and elderly care.
KK - How do you plan on conducting field trials and perfecting the robot’s systems prior to full product launch?
AE - The idea is to perform qualitative studies in which the robot is in close proximity of elderly individuals and carers. Observing their responses and usability issues is crucial. This will be an iterative process, you observe, you improve, you test it again.
KK - Where can we find further information?
AE – Readers can watch the video demonstration of P37 S65 elderly care robot at YouTube.
About Antonio Espingardeiro
IEEE member and Robotics researcher. Antonio has a Bachelor in Industrial Informatics Engineering from Setúbal Polytechnic Institute (Portugal) and an MSc. in Robotics and Automation with Distinction at the National Advanced Robotics Research Centre from University of Salford (UK).
Since 2009 he has been working on a Doctoral study which proposes new Human Robotics Interaction benchmarks for the use of Socially Assistive Robots with vulnerable groups such as the elderly.
In 2010 Antonio founded his own personal “Social Assistive Robotics Lab” where he conducts independent research in the fields of Social Assistive Robotics, Automation and Rehabilitation devices.
Antonio is the inventor of P37 S65 “Elderly Care Bot”, one of the first socially assistive robots for elderly care in the world.
Antonio is the author of more than 34 projects in the areas of Software and Robotics and Automation. Antonio serves as an IEEE technical expert in Robotics and is an active member of the IEEE public visibility program.
In 2011, Antonio created a set of charity events entitled “Robots on the Road” for entertaining elderly and disabled people within extra care facilities around the UK.
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