Can't take care of your elderly relatives? Buy a bot

A research project in Europe works to create a robot, wearable smart sensor system, and alarm-and-reporting system to help elderly people live independently longer.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read

A research project in Europe is bringing together a multidisciplinary team to create a robot, wearable smart sensor system, and alarm-and-reporting system in the hopes that together they'll enable more elderly people to live independently for longer.

The Kompai-R&D robot Robosoft

Researchers at the University of the West of England at Bristol (UWE) plan to work with companies such as Robosoft out of France and Smart Homes out of the Netherlands to investigate the best technologies to meet the unique needs of elderly people living alone at home.

Various oft-independent systems, such as health reporting, home alarms, voice-recognition shopping, and nutritional/medication schedules, will be linked to a single robotic platform through which appointed caregivers, relatives, and friends can better stay in touch.

"We hope that the health monitoring and the nutrition support systems will help people to track and maintain a better standard of health and activity, helping them live independently for as long as possible," says Praminda Caleb-Solly, who is leading the user experience research for UWE. "We want to know what would be acceptable to them in a personal and social context, and make sure that the technology is easy and intuitive to use."

Robosoft will deliver two Kompai-R&D robots for trials starting in May, and the researchers will work with six user groups--three in the U.K. and three in the Netherlands--who represent older people living alone in their own homes, living in residential care homes, and living at home but attending day care.

I'm no expert on the needs of the elderly, but in my own experience with my own grandparents, living alone is certainly preferred, and yet it can also be very lonely. Whether a robot provides any sort of companionship remains to be seen, but if it makes communication with loved ones easy, this feature alone could go a long way.

My 92-year-old grandmother, for instance, can only hear me long-distance with VoIP (forget cell phones), but she has no idea how to even launch Skype, let alone accept an incoming call. If we're talking baby boomers, though, let the bots come marching in.

Sorry, mom and dad.