Getting the Elderly Out & About

Historically – and in the present time – it has often been a challenge to get senior citizens out of their homes. There are various reasons for this:

  • fear (perhaps of falling, due to past experiences)
  • habit (they’ve stayed indoors so long they’ve gotten used to it
  • lack of opportunity (a lot of their peers have either passed on or are unable to meet with them
  • inadequate resources (transportation; knowledge as to where to go, etc.).

Over the years and in different parts of the country (as well as abroad), authoritative figures, council members, social workers and others have attempted to ease the strain of the elderly’s fear of leaving their house.

One recent technological example of is an initiative developed by IBM in conjunction with Rice University. The outcome? The Multi-Purpose Eldercare Robot Assistant (MERA) which is a “a customized version of the Pepper robot developed by SoftBank Robotics in Japan.” Specifically designed as a companion for the elderly to use at home, MERA is able to record and thereafter analyze videos of a person’s face, thus forecasting their vital signs. With its speech technology the Robot is able to “speak” with the individual and even provide accurate responses to medical- and health-related questions.

So that’s great for at home use. But what about going outside and reintegrating the elderly back into society after perhaps a long time stuck indoors? That’s where the development of Roboticist Maja Matarić and her team from Southern Calfifornia University come in. they are focused on building robots with the ability to “tap into human social dynamics,” which will facilitate social interaction for this demographic. She explained that in their research they found “people really need help with motivation [so they responded by creating] the field of socially assistive robotics: machines that help people through social, not physical, interaction.” Examples of this are: physical therapy coaching; socializing with friends, family and neighbors.

The next step was Spritebot – a Robot measuring one foot high in the shape of a green own that can assist seniors when it comes to game playing with the younger generation. This then gives them confidence to take this newfound knowledge outside of the house and rejoin society. The way it works is by teaming an elderly member with a robot companion, getting them comfortable with it and engaging them. once they are happy to do that, it is easier to go on to the next step of replacing the robot with a real human being. It is ultimately hoped that by supervising the way the elderly work with these robots, crucial data on habit formation and human-robot bond dynamics will be developed.