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Robots like Stevie could allow the elderly to live in their own homes for longer

A team of researchers at Trinity have been given funding by Enterprise Ireland to develop a robot to assist with the elderly.

Image: Gráinne Ní Aodha

THE FIRST SKETCHES for Stevie the robot began in March this year.

The team of researchers and engineers at Trinity College began putting him together by any means necessary – using a Playstation controller and 3D-printed plastic arms and a head to put Stevie together.

But the robot’s function is the really complex bit – responding to the needs of an elderly person living alone.

“Nursing homes face significant care challenges, especially during the night,” says Conor McGinn, who’s an assistant professor in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at Trinity.

He and a team of researchers have been working with organisations such as Alone to ensure that the robot they created would be user-focused towards the elderly’s needs.

So here’s what they’ve come up with.

What does Stevie do?

He’s been programmed to recognise what is normal and abnormal behaviour for an elderly person and to notify someone if something is out of the ordinary.

He uses a camera, phone, and wifi to do this, and can turn lights and household appliances on and off.

In a series of demonstrations at the Science Gallery today, Stevie and 62-year-old Tony, who helps the researchers tweak the robot to be at his most useful, played out a few scenarios where having an assisted living robot would be useful.

In one such case, Tony tells Stevie he’s going up to bed, and to turn the lights off once he leaves the room. This eliminates the fear that an elderly person might fall after turning the lights off when heading to bed.

In another case, Stevie asks Tony if he takes his medication, as many elderly people do forget to take their daily medication, which can have serious health impacts. In another case, Stevie calls for help when Tony falls asleep at the dinner table, which the robot recognises is unusual for him.

Stevie the robot Source: Trinity College Dublin

Tony, who got involved with the project through the organisation Alone and his interest in technology, says that this is a way forward, even though it’s still in its early stages.

“When I was on the way I was joking earlier would the robot sound like HAL from 2001 the Space Odyssey or would he be like Croydon from Deep Space Nine or a cross between the two of them, or maybe Robocop!”

But, as you’d imagine, he’s not like any of those and was designed to be personable.

He didn’t creep me out at all – I thought he was a cute little fecker, I thought he was like a house pet but I won’t have to feed it.

“I find him quite personable, he’s very user-friendly. And there’s a bit to go but I think it’s travelling in the right direction at the moment.”

“If you remember back to the Industrial Revolution everything changed and we’ve got the technological revolution now and everything is changing.

What’s big and bulky on the 1 January 2017 could be compact and miniature by 2020, you know?

He says that if robots became mainstream and were widely available, he would consider getting one if he needed the extra help. He says he knows a few other people who would be the same and get a robot. But what do his family think?

His son was impressed by the robot, as he works in IT so he would have an interest in it. So far he’s the only one Tony has told about his involvement so far.

They haven’t got to see it yet. I’m going to ring the others later and let them know so they won’t be surprised if it comes out on news bulletins.

McGinn says the driving force behind this research is to create something practical, market ready. Although there isn’t a cost attached to a robot like Stevie yet, as there are still two years of reserach and development to be done by the team.

But it’s expected that it will be offered as a service or a package, rather than a single robot, and that the first assisted living robot will be market-ready by 2021.

The first pilot is scheduled to take place in the summer of 2018.

Read: ‘It can be quite lonely and isolating for them’: There are 3,800 carers under the age of 15 in Ireland

Read: If an apocalypse hit Ireland, what kind of survivor would you be?

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