WSU robot image

Researchers at the Washington State University (WSU) in America have unveiled a new, pioneering robot that aims to help people living with dementia and other conditions stay independent in their own homes.

Called the Robot Activity Support System (RAS), it uses sensors embedded in the home to determine where its residents are, what they are doing and when they need assistance with daily tasks.

RAS then navigates through rooms and around obstacles to find people, provides video instructions on how to carry out simple tasks and can lead its owner to objects like their medication or a snack in the kitchen.

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The WSU team, which is led by Professors Diane Cook and Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe, hopes that innovative technology will help reduce financial strain on the healthcare system by allowing people to live independently in their homes.

Professor Cook commented: “Upwards of 90 per cent of older adults prefer to age in place as opposed to moving into a nursing home. We want to make it so that instead of bringing in a caregiver or sending these people to a nursing home, we can use technology to help them live independently on their own.”

RAS is the first robot to be incorporated into WSU’s experimental smart home environment. The university recently published a study in the Cognitive Systems Research journal that explains how RAS could improve the lives of dementia patients.

During the study, the group recruited 26 undergraduate and graduate students to complete three activities in a smart home with RAS as an assistant. The activities were: getting ready to walk the dog, taking medication with food and water, and watering household plants.

When the smart home sensors detected a human did not respond to, or was struggling with, one of the tasks, RAS received a message to aid them.

The robot then used its mapping and navigation camera, sensors and software to find the person and provide assistance.

The individual could then indicate through a tablet interface that they wanted to see a video of the next step in the activity they were performing, a video of the entire activity, or they could ask the robot to lead them to objects needed to complete the activity like the dog’s lead or a snack from the kitchen.

In the future, RAS’ performance will be tested with a group of older adults to gain a better understanding of what prompts, video reminders and other preferences they have regarding the robot.

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