Robots are capable of extraordinary things: they can become musicians, actors, soldiers or surgeons. Highly specialized machines are not very different from robots that can help in everyday life of seniors or of the disabled. These carebots can find lost items, bring their owner a mug of hot tea or challenge their brain with questions.
The main problem of carebots is that while they have limited operational capacity, the needs of their users are infinite. A Polish team of engineers from the Faculty of Electronics and Information Technology on Warsaw University of Technology participated in the RAPP project (Robotic Applications for Delivering Smart User Empowering Applications), trying to find a solution to that problem. The team was led by professor Cezary Zieliński, PhD, and cooperated with partners from Greece, Spain, France and Great Britain. Their main objective was to create a platform that would facilitate building applications for universal carebots.
The idea of programmable robots for seniors is not a novelty. There are a lot of humanoid robots available on the market. The main obstacle in using them as carebots is not only the cost, but the size – human-sized robots are bound to cause fear in elderly or disabled people. That’s why the RAPP project focuses on small robots, such as Nao created by Aldebaran Robotics, which is only 58 cm tall.
“People treat such robots a bit like slaves,” explains professor Zieliński. “They think that robots can follow every command.” A limited size of a carebot implies limited hardware resources – the main obstacle the team had to overcome. Their idea is using a computational cloud, a solution that allows carebots to communicate with more powerful servers. When the robot hears a verbal command, it sends a query to the cloud. A proper module is chosen, installed and executed, allowing the robot to react properly to the command.
An additional benefit of such a computational cloud is that most data is stored not in a robot unit, but on the external server. It allows for gradual building of a profile for each user: the carebot will collect all information about the needs, likes and behavior of its owner. Even if the robot will stop functioning, its successor will be able to access all collected data.
Professor Cezary Zieliński thinks that such carebots are more and more necessary. “Societies are aging, but there are not enough senior care assistants in developed countries,” he says. It seems that solving social problems with technology might become a new trend.