Robots and homes with empathy: the next step in the care of the elderly | Technology
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When José Alfonso saw the details of the house and the monitoring bracelet that his mother was wearing, he noticed that something was not right and called her on the phone. He asked if anything had happened on Wednesday. She hadn’t said anything to him so as not to worry him, but he had had an infection and they had come to give him an antibiotic. Before passing away, his 76-year-old mother relied on a home automation system to get ready at home.
“What appeared in the first place was an alteration in the EDA, which is the conductivity of the skin, which depends on the amount of sweating, and also in the heart rate”, points out José Alfonso Vera Repullo, who is a researcher on the project HIMTAE and professor at the Polytechnic University of Cartagena (UPCT). “This was generated just at the moment someone arrived home; I have a record of when they knock on the door and they open it.” Everything indicated that a stressful situation had occurred.
Vera’s mother has been one of the people who has tested the home automation and personal monitoring system developed by the UPCT with the HIMTAE project. The purpose is to assist the elderly, especially those who live alone. But it has a peculiarity: with it you can determine the emotional state of people at any given moment. Thus, better care is possible.
To achieve this, the project has resorted to home automation, the sensorization of the house centralized in a commercial assistant, such as Google Home or Alexa, and now they plan to integrate robotics. They have been working in this last field for three years, but more recently they have joined forces with the Alicante-based company Bumerania.
This company, born at the beginning of the pandemic, was already working on its own elderly assistance robot. As a result of the agreement with the Polytechnic of Cartagena, they plan to integrate both technologies: robotics and home automation, which actually share the objective: detect the emotions of the elderly to better serve them.
“In that same space, the robot is also made with the home automation controls,” explains Isidro Fernández, CEO of Bumerania. “The scenario would be that of an elderly or dependent person who has a robot at home that monitors their health. For example, if the smart bracelet it is wearing detects that the person’s temperature has dropped, the robot will set the appropriate house temperature for the person. But, also, at a certain time in the morning, he will open the blinds of the house or, at night, he will turn off the television”.
Boomerania’s robot, named Temi, is driven by voice commands and charges itself when its battery is low. This automaton, a kind of tall robotic vacuum cleaner topped by a tablet as a face, is guided by lidar and has two depth cameras. It is programmed to try to keep the old man active. He detects that he has gotten up and proposes activities, such as taking a cooking class or taking a yoga class, which he displays on the tablet.
He is also capable of having that empathy that the University project is looking for. He recognizes emotions thanks to artificial intelligence, in this case, to a neural network trained with 33,000 images of faces labeled with their corresponding moods. “If the person is sad, the robot looks at his face, detects it and maybe asks him: Do you want us to call your grandson?” Fernandez suggests.
The home automation of the UPCT uses other formulas to know the emotions of the people. “The sensors needed to determine a person’s state of mind are movement and electrical consumption detectors,” says Professor Vera. “Knowing the activity that the person has inside the house, such as, for example, if they spend a lot of time lying down or on the sofa, gives us an idea of their emotional state. And to this the consumptions are added. For example, if the person takes a shower, we know it because there is a consumption of hot water”.
Based on tests, they have discovered that, if a person is depressed, one of the first signs is that the energy consumption of the house is reduced. “In cases of deep depression, the displacements throughout a day are very small, apart from the fact that there is almost no movement in the blinds”, indicates the researcher.
Around 20 people participate in the HIMTAE project, including engineers from different specialties, psychologists and pedagogues. The idea is that these home automation systems are based on products already available on the market and are low cost. The installation can require an investment of between 500 and 800 euros, with all the necessary sensors and the configuration of Alexa or Google Home.
Researchers from the UPCT and the @uc3m they are designing assistive robots to help older people who live alone.
They are halfway between a virtual butler and a smart speaker, similar to Google, Apple or Amazon! https://t.co/g6Gbt3z9ds
— UPCT | Polytechnic University of Cartagena (@UPCTnoticias) June 13, 2019
Determining the emotions of people who live alone and are dependent serves to anticipate events. That way, families can find out sooner if there’s a problem. The objective is better attention and to be able to combat certain deteriorations when they are not yet significant.
In Bumerania they even talk about an accompanying function: “We want older people to be able to have a robot in their house just like they have a dishwasher or other appliance. Because, at the rate at which the population is aging in Europe, in a few years there will not be young people who can take care of so many older people. The robot is going to fulfill that function”, points out Fernández. According to the World Health Organization, in 2019 there were 1 billion people over the age of 60 in the world. By 2030, it will already be 1.4 billion.
To illustrate the affection that these domestic automatons can arouse, the CEO of Bumerania tells an anecdote: an old lady who had tried the robot, when they were going to take it back, grabbed Temi’s trunk because she said he was the only one who He had listened to her lately. Fernández clarifies that they gave it to him.
This domestic automaton is already marketable, although the official launch will be in June. Bumerania plans to rent it to the elderly for 125 euros a month with a telemedicine service. Although it can also be purchased for 6,000 euros.
For the Polytechnic University of Cartagena, the integration of robotics and home automation is a fundamental part of its initial approach, as well as the door to new research projects. In any case, as Vera emphasizes, it is not about replacing a personal relationship: “This is a complement to human contact.”
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