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Monday, February 18, 2013

Elderly assist robot solutions

The population in Asia, Europe and USA is aging at an increasing rate effecting quality of life and welfare systems. Rising demand of care for the elderly, shortage of workforce, rising costs of care, and public financing crisis have been identified by researchers, industry experts and politicians as major  challenges for the future. Japan is often mentioned as the forerunner, as it is fast turning into the world’s oldest nation. In 2012 Japan was the only country in the world where more than 30% of the population is over 60.
But in 2050 64 countries will have more than 30% of the population is over 60.
The Japanese population is also starting to show signs of decline. In 2005, the country saw its first population decrease since 1899. The current Japanese population of 127 million is expected to drop to 89 million by the year 2055.

Rising Average Life Expectancy

As of 2010, the average life expectancy of a Japanese male is 79.64 and 86.39 for female. Compared to that of year 1970, which were 69.31 and 74.66 respectively, the average life expectancy has increased by 10 to 12 years for both male and female in the last 40 years. According to the bureau of social welfare and public health in Tokyo of all the elderly population in Tokyo, 72% of men and 75% of women in their sixties, and 59% of men and 56% of women in their seventies said they felt they were in good health. But the number of seniors who require support or nursing care (Senior in Need of Long-term Care) is increasing. Approximately 12.5% of seniors 65 or older are certified to “require support/nursing care for some kind of dementia”. In addition, 60% of seniors certified to “require support/nursing care due to symptoms causing difficulty in daily”. Japan is also tackling a rise in the number of people who die alone, most of whom are elderly. In Tokyo 4.6 million elderly people lived alone in 2010, and the number who died at home soared 61% between 2003 and 2010, from 1,364 to 2,194.

Robot care for the aging society  

Credit: METI/Panasonic/Matsushita Memorial Hospital
The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry (METI) predicts the emergence of a “Neo-Mechatronic Society” within the next two decades. In this society, robots will routinely provide a number of services such as cleaning, guarding buildings, providing recreational facilities and caring for the elderly. Japan thus foresees a new generation of robotics, which is also positioned as a solution for its aging society.

Life assist robot solutions

Last year Panasonic Corporation and Matsushita Memorial Hospital have presented a business model in which robots related to medicine or those suitable for autonomous transportation were exhibited in an area simulating a hospital, which helped customers to envision hospitals that would introduce such robots. They proposed using robots to solve problems in medical practice and management of hospitals by comprehensively considering such problems through consultations. At the METI 5th Robot Awards the robotic business model was awarded with the first prize in the new category of "Robot Business and Social Implementation".

Japanese assistance robot HOSPI 

One of the robotic components is "HOSPI", a automatic medication delivery robot, which is used in hospitals in Japan and other countries. HOSPI-Rimo serves as an intermediary to enable comfortable communication between people who are bed ridden or have limited mobility to communicate with other people, for example, their attending doctor in a separate room in the hospital or friends who live far away, as if they were interacting face to face. HOSPI-Rimo employs HOSPI's autonomous mobility technology and high-definition visual communications technology Panasonic is renowned for.

Robotic Nurses Needed

According to data from the U.S. Administration of Aging, AoA persons 65 years or older numbered 40.2 million in 2010. They represented 12.9% of the U.S. population, about one in every eight Americans. AoA predicts that in 2050, the number of Americans aged 65 and older is projected to be 88.5 million, more than double its projected population of 40.2 million in 2010. The baby boomers are largely responsible for this increase in the older population, as they will begin crossing into this category in 2011.

700,000 additional nurses needed

Today about 2,7 million registered nurses (RNs) in the USA provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their family members. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) employment of registered nurses is expected to grow 26 percent from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations. BLS projects a need for 711,900 additional nurses from 2010 to 2020. Growth will occur primarily because of technological advancements; an increased emphasis on preventative care; and the large, aging baby-boomer population who will demand more healthcare services as they live longer and more active lives.

Nursebot project 

In 1998 a multi-disciplinary team of investigators from four universities, consisting of four health-care faculty, one HCI/psychology expert, and four AI researchers started the Nursebot Project. The goal of the project was to develop mobile robotic assistants for nurses and elderly people in various settings. Over the course of 36 months, the team developed two prototype autonomous mobile robots: Florence and Pearl. In their paper "Experiences with a Mobile Robotic Guide for the Elderly" reseacher M. Montemerlo, J. Pineau, N. Roy, S. Thrun and V. Varma, at the School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, describe a mobile robotic assistant for nurses and elderly in assisted living facilities and experiments. The researchers came to the conclusion that the elderly population requires techniques that can cope with their degradation (e.g., speaking abilities) and also pays special attention to safety issues. The area of assistive technology was identified "as a prime source for great AI problems in the future."

Ten year later researchers at Intel Labs at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), in Pittsburgh, still try to find out how to develop a Home Exploring Robot Butler, HERBto be able to enter a household, take stock of his surroundings, and be able to move around freely, avoiding obstacles and carrying objects as desired by the humans he serves. The researchers believe senior citizens and the disabled will be the early adopters of robot butlers, since they most need help around the house. 

European robot projects for elderly support 

In the last decade the European Commission has co-funded appr. 100-150 M€ in robotics research under the Seventh Framework Programme for research and technological development (FP7) 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.  
One example is the CompanionAble project, started in 2008 with the goal to "provide the synergy of Robotics and Ambient Intelligence technologies and their semantic integration to provide people suffering from mild cognitive impairments (MCI) with a care-giver's assistive environment.  Check out the video below. It shows the final concepts of the CompanionAble project. It has been recorded in the 'Smartest House of the Netherlands' of Smart Homes in Eindhoven. This was one of the sites where extensive user evaluations took place. In 2010 the Robot-Era project started with the ambition to significantly enhance the complexity and acceptability of current robotic services to a new level of service and performance for helping seniors in daily life. The objective is to develop, implement and demonstrate the general feasibility, scientific/technical effectiveness and social/legal plausibility and acceptability by end-users of a plurality of complete advanced robotic services, integrated in intelligent environments, which will actively work in real conditions and cooperate with real people and between them to favour independent living, improve the quality of life and the efficiency of care for elderly people. SILVER is new development project that started in January 2012 and will run for 51 months. The SILVER project searches for new technologies to assist elderly people in their everyday lives. By the use of robotics or other related technologies, the elderly can continue independent living at home even if they have physical or cognitive disabilities. The new technologies and solutions are sought by using a Pre-Commercial Procurement (PCP) process. In Europe, the PCP has so far been an under-utilised tool for promoting innovation. One of the aims of this project is to demonstrate the effectiveness of this approach to address societal and governmental needs. After careful market consultation an international Pre-Commercial Procurement call is being opened to acquire the research and development of new robotics based technologies that support independent living for the elderly. The total bugdet of the three phase competition is 2.250.000 EUR (EU contribution 1 million EUR). SILVER has partners in Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and United Kingdom. The consortium includes research institutions and public sector organizations. <

Korean nurse bot 2013

Credit: Kiro-M5, Postech
The latest in a line of nurse bots comes from South Korea. The KIRO-M5 is a compact transportation robot that can carry supplies, sterilize and deodorize the air, and alert nurses when the elderly patients need their diapers changed. The robot performs daily wake-up calls, informs residents when food is served, schedules their daily exercise, and has an alarm function should an emergency arise. Besides sniffing the air to detect soiled diapers, the KIRO-M5 also has a pair of handles so it can be used as a robotic walker. The Korea Institute of Robot and Convergence, a division of the Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH), began work on the KIRO-M5 in early 2011 and is now conducting trials at nursing homes. Korean engineers have been developing robots for the "silver generation" over the past decade.

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