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Singapore seniors to get robotic personal trainers to stay healthy

As seniors make up a larger and larger percentage of its population, Singapore plans to roll out robotic care-givers to help the elderly exercise.


Like many other developed nations, Singapore is facing an ageing population. But seniors there now have a high-tech ally in the struggle to stay healthy: a robot personal trainer.

Named Robocoach, the fitness-minded cyborg made an appearance Sunday at a government-sponsored tech exhibition for seniors and will be deployed to over 20 senior activity centres to help caregivers run exercise classes for residents.

Developed by a group of students from Ngee Polyechnic, Robocoach is sponsored by Singapore's Infocomm Development Authority as part of the government's Smart Nation plan, a large-scale, multibillion-dollar government initiative to use Internet technologies to modernise different facets of Singaporean life and infrastructure.

One of the fast-growing "Tiger Economies" of Asia, Singapore is experiencing a problem common to prospering countries: an ageing population. If it proves effective, the Robocoach technology could be useful to nations like Australia, Japan and the USA, all of which are among the many countries around the world with a growing elderly population.

"The first Robocoach has been deployed to the Lions Befrienders Senior Activity Centre," Dr. Yaacob Ibrahim, Singapore's Minister for Communications and Information, said at the IDA-sponsored Silver IT Fest. An IDA representative confirmed to CNET that five senior activity centres will receive units in the next 12 months, with subsequent distribution pending on feedback from the centres.

The Robocoach is equipped with two screens: a tablet on its head, to convey emotion through facial expressions, and a larger display on its chest, which gives detailed instruction on exercises, should its demonstrations be insufficiently instructional.

In addition to demonstrating movements to groups, the robots can also use powerful sensors to give feedback on whether individuals are performing exercises correctly.

Singapore, the world's third most rapidly ageing population, is projected to have between 6 million to 6.9 million citizens by 2030 -- 900,000 of which will be seniors.

With the Robocoach, Singapore is following the lead of Japan. Japanese research institute Riken revealed its Robobear robotic caretaker back in February.