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Sunday, December 02, 2012

Will sentient robot companions rescue aging Europe?

Credit: Dan Chen, End of life caring machine
In "End of Life Caring Machine", media artist and roboticist Dan Chen explores the deceptions through technology and replacement of humanity with robotics. With his provocative installation Chen ultimately asks: "What is intimacy without humanity?
The artistic robot reflects a complex issue in the cross road of human values, global trends, sci-tech interests and socio-economic challenges.

European robot visions

While a majority of European citizens will ban the use of robots in child and elderly care, as reported here before, hundred of million Euros have already been invested in robotic road maps and research projects to develop robot companions and ambient living assistants for elderly and disabled people.
In the last decade the European Commission has co-funded appr. 100-150 M€ in robotics research to develop advanced technical aids for promoting independent living and improving quality of life. So far the transfer of scientific knowledge from prototypes into reliable, human-safe and affordable consumer products has been very limited. Much more investment in research, development and testing will be needed in the coming decade before robots are ready to take place in private homes or public care facilities in Europe and other parts of the world.

1000 million Euro Companion Robot

Credit: RoboCom
The most ambitious European initiative comes from Italy and Paolo Dario, Professor of robotics at Scuola Superiore Sant’Ann, who will launch a large scale European S&T Research Programme to create robots that will co-exist and work together with humans. The RoboCom project, which stands for Robot Companions for Citizens, is promoted as "a bridge between science and sustainable welfare ...designed to capitalize on the synergy resulting from the convergence of science and engineering." Prof. Dario and his multidisciplinary research consortium of 73 partners from 24 European and other collaborating countries including the leading research centers of science and technology are finally competing with 5 other pilot projects in the European Future and Emerging Technology (FET) Flagship Challenge to be chosen as a full FET Flagship Initiative in 2013 with a funding support of appr. 1000 million EURO from the European Commission.

Sustainable welfare and quality of life

According to the public project proposal report the benefits for the European society will be "sustainable welfare that will enhance the quality of life of the European population with its rapidly changing demographics. This sustainable welfare will take the form of sentient robot companions that will be produced, distributed and serviced through a unique value chain with a substantial and revolutionary economic impact."  In the report the researchers envisage impacts in many spheres of human existence—private, social, economic, urban and physical. Illustrated by a use-case scenario for the year 2023 a future robot companion might be smart enough to assist an elderly couple when shopping. When getting older and disabled more complex support and assisting tasks will be needed of  an increasing number of European citizens.
Credit: RoboCom, Illustration of a use-case of the
WorkCompanion Platforms at year 10 and beyond.

Higher Aging Costs in Europe

According to the “The 2012 Ageing Report: Economic and budgetary projections for the EU27 Member States (2010-2060)”, analyzing the economic and budgetary impact of an ageing population over the long-term, the share of older people is project to rise from 17% to 30% in 2060. As a consequence, the EU would move from having four people of working-age to each person aged over 65 years to about two people of working-age.
On the basis of current policies, age-related public expenditures (pensions, health-care and long-term care) are projected to increase by 4.1 percentage points to around to around 29% of GDP between 2010 and 2060. Public pension expenditure alone is projected to rise by 1.5 percentage points to nearly 13% of GDP by 2060.

Robotic Care Vision

Credit: ALIAS, Metra Lab
European policy makers, researchers and welfare experts are convinced that Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) and Social  Service Robots (SSR) have the potential to become key components in coping with Europe’s demographic and aging cost changes in the coming decades. There is also consensus from past experiences with service robots that acceptance, usability and affordability will be the prime factors for any successful introduction of robotic technology into the homes of older people.
Service robotics has been identified and is promoted as a new sector with strong industrial potential of growth and development. Integration and interoperability of robotics components with smart environments and more precise services are key objectives for further research and development.

European Care Robotics Projects 

In the minds of many young robot researchers elderly people might expect mobile robot systems that interacts with them, monitor them and provide cognitive assistance in daily life, and will support social inclusion. (ALIAS).
Credit: Robosoft/Domeo
In the future human-robot interaction will increase from the range of minutes to the range of days thanks to robotic companions as part of an intelligent environment (ALIZE-E). Robots will provide a range of services to older users to facilitate independent living at home. Robots will offer assistance at every stage of life, new robotics platforms will integrate and adapt to personalized home care services, including cognitive and physical assistance (ACCOMPANY). Low-budget mass-market robots will improve well-being of elderly and efficiency in elderly care (FLORENCE). Smart nurse-bots and socially assistive robots will use the World Wide Web to store and retrieve learned tasks and actions. These robots will learn form each other and apply new knowledge in their own setting (RoboEarth). Robots will be able to follow a user and guide him or her through their home, assisting with alert functions and also learning user-defined objects to be able to retrieve them (HOBBIT). Robots will help elderly people, especially those with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), with their daily activities and care needs and provide the means for effective self-management of their disease (KSERA). Home care robots will also monitor and detect critical situations which need prompt medical attention for elderly people, especially people with cardiovascular diseases (Robo M.D.). Remotely-controlled, semi-autonomous robotic solutions will support elderly people in domestic, intelligent environments. (SRS, MoBiServe).

List of some EC-funded assisted robotics projects:
  • ACCOMPANY- Acceptable robotiCs COMPanions for AgeiNg Years
  • ALIAS - Adaptable Ambient Living Assistant
  • ALIZE - Adaptive Strategies for Sustainable Long-Term Social Interaction
  • COMPANIONABLE - Integrated Cognitive Assistive & Domotic Companion Robotic Systems for Ability & Security
  • DOMEO - Domestic Robot for Elderly Assistance
  • ExCITE - Enabling SoCial Interaction Through Embodiment
  • FLORENCE - Multi Purpose Mobile Robot for Ambient Assisted Living
  • HERMES - Cognitive care and guidance for active aging
  • HOBBIT - Multi Purpose Mobile Robot for Ambient Assisted Living
  • KSERA - Knowledgeable SErvice Robots for Aging
  • MobiServ - Integrated Intelligent Home Environment for the Provision of Health, Nutrition and -  MOBIlity SERVices to the Elderly
  • RoboEarth - Robots sharing a knowledge base for world modelling and learning actions
  • Robo M.D. - Home care robot for monitoring and detection of critical situations
  • SRS - Multi-Role Shadow Robotic System for Independent Living
For more information please visit each project´s homepage. 

If you want to watch the Last Moment Robot take care of a (fake) patient, as well as deliver its last-words-you-hear-on-earth speech, please click below:

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