Give & Take Care launch

Give & Take Care is a non-technological approach to solving the workforce shortage and providing care for the future older population. Based around the idea of volunteering, it is an initiative of time exchange that hopes to be revolutionary. Last Friday I attended the Give & Take Care launch in The Piggott School in Twyford to try and understand more about this innovative scheme.

What is Give & Take Care?

Give & Take Care is the brainchild of Emeritus Heinz Wolff and Gabriella Spinelli of Brunel University. Like CHIRON, their project is being funded by Innovate UK’s Long Term Care Revolution and began in February 2016.

The idea is of mutual exchange; ‘support provided by me now, in return for support for me later’. Essentially the idea means a future where some of your care may be paid for by your time, instead of by your money. It is an idea which aims to improve how we care for older people across the UK.

Care Pension

The scheme provides a ‘care pension’ account, logging the hours of care you give to others, for you to access the same hours of care later in your life. Time is measured by something called GATs – these are credits of hours that are banked when you give care to another. 1 hour of care/support = 1 GAT. For example, if you give 5 hours a week of befriending care to Mrs Jones, your account will be credited with 5 GATs for that week. It aims to create more person-centred care for the elderly, that will hope to reduce loneliness, and build community support networks while also helping NHS expenditure, by mobilising society at large to work together to help solve the current care crisis.

Who is organising the scheme? 

Collaborators on the project are The East of England Coop Society & Brunel University London. Prof Heinz Wolff conceived the idea of reciprocal care that underpins Give & Take Care. Heinz is an inventor, a scientist and an entrepreneur. He spent his professional life working for the Medical Council, The European Space Agency, the BBC, Brunel University London and many other prestigious organisations. Dr Gabriella Spinelli is a Reader in Design Innovation at Brunel University, specialising in design for ageing. Her passion is to help shape society such that people have a graceful and full life well into old age.

More info

Innovate UK is funding the first 25 months of G&TC-CIC. For more information please go to

Robots vs Humanity


Should robots have faces? Can you fall in love with a robot? Will robots rule the future? These are some of the questions that were approached at last Thursday 1st December at ‘Robots vs Humanity’, an event organised by the CHIRON project.

The sold out event, held at Google Campus in London, saw people from many industries come together to think about and debate some of the biggest issues facing our society and future. Rich Walker, MD of Shadow Robot chaired the panel, which saw the speakers weigh in on questions tweeted in by the audience throughout the six talks.

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The panel debates some of the questions tweeted in by the audience

Among the speakers were Patrick Levy Rosenthal, CEO of Emoshape who introduced his innovative new hardware – an emotion chip (Emotion Processing Unit) which enables emotional response from robots and AI. The EPU enables machines to respond to stimuli in line with the eight primary emotions: anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust, and joy. Controversy followed not long after with Kathleen Richardson, Director of the Campaign Against Sex Robots who spoke about society and her opposition to sex robots.

Also speaking at the event were psychologists and psychiatrists, Dr Tom Pennybacker & Dr Elena Tourani of the Chelsea Psychology Clinic and Richard Graham of the Tavistock and Portman, who weighed in on issues surrounding attachment, child development and love. Meanwhile, engineers, Dr Praminda Caleb Solly, Associate Professor at UWE Bristol and Professor Guang-Zhong Yang, Co-Founder of the Hamlyn Centre, explored exciting developments in the robotics world and spoke about some of their ground-breaking research to date.

Praminda, who recently won STEM woman of the year at the RWOTY awards 2016, spoke about assistive technology and care robots. She was keen to put across the idea that robots were not being made to replace carers, merely to assist them. She said:

“The work in the BRL involves understanding how people and robots can interact intuitively, safely and effectively; designing and testing robots that will be acceptable and enjoyable to use, and ensuring that the technology is developed being mindful of ethical and cultural issues.”


Praminda Caleb-Solly (left) won STEM Woman of the Year 2016

“Assistive technologies, such as smart home environments, integrated sensors and assistive robotics, are recognised as important tools in helping older people improve their quality of life and live independently for longer. Current research is looking into a range of different ways in which robots might be used, such as assisting older adults with age related disabilities and long term conditions, and their carers, in daily tasks, to enable independent living and active ageing.”

However, not everyone was as positive about these advances in technology as Dr Caleb-Solly. Kathleen Richardson who is also author of An Anthropology of Robots and AI: Annihilation Anxiety and Machines said: “I am extremely worried about the impact on human relationships, as the idea that humans are optional – that you can have all your needs met by a machine – is not true.”


Kathleen Richardson, Director of the Campaign Against Sex Robots

“In my previous research on autism I looked at how human beings make attachments and what happens if they don’t make attachments with other human beings.”

“Machines are very good at doing work and going to places that we cannot go to, like outer space, so they definitely have a role to play, but they cannot do what people do – they cannot do intimacy. It is not possible but we are increasingly being told it is,” she added.

Sinéad Nolan, Research and Communications Office for the CHIRON project who organised the event explained why she wanted people to have this debate.

“I think people should be discussing these issues. We are on the edge of one of the biggest changes in society. Technology is moving forward and people are wondering where it is going – where will we be in 30 years’ time? What will that change mean for us, and what will it mean for our society and our happiness?

“Although I agree that ‘Robots vs Humanity’ does sound a bit like a battle, we hoped the outcome for the event would be overall one of positivity and it definitely was. The feedback from the event has been excellent, with people saying it was one of the best events of its kind that they have ever attended.

“While we initially invited people to think of it a black and white issue, I think people left with a much more well-rounded view of how assistive technology and robots can help further our society in the future.”


Five New Robots in 2016

  1. MiRo

MiRo, by Sebastian Conran Associates, is marketed as a “biomimetic companion robot”. Modelled on a dog – albeit a dog that will transmit news of any problems in the home to a hub, remind you to take your medicine, and remind you of your visitors’ names – MiRo was met with derision recently by the Guardian. They scoffed ‘What visitors? If you had any, you wouldn’t need a robot.’ The designers have modelled MiRo on animals, ‘from their senses and decision-making processes, all the way through to their bodies and behaviours’. The robot also claims to be self-assembly and comes with instructions. With a ‘low cost fully programmable autonomous platform the companion robot is has six senses, eight degrees of freedom, an innovative brain-inspired operating system and a simulation software package’. The MiRo seems nifty and useful, just as long as it avoids becoming a trip hazard.

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Asus Zenbo
  1. Asus Zenbo

Zenbo is a new robot friend aimed at seniors and kids. It is described as a smart home manager, security guard, hands-free kitchen assistant, and family photographer. The video markets it as fitting into the family as somewhat a remote carer and childminder in one – reading stories to your children and following you around reminding you, like a tiny, wide-eyed, benevolent secretary, of the appointments you’ve forgotten. Zenbo provides recipe recommendations and similar services in response to voice queries. Users can also use Zenbo to buy goods online by logging into accounts and inputting passwords with their voice, and take photos like an autonomous selfie stick. Asus can also recognise your older relative falling over, take a photo of it and send it to you. This might be useful in a worst-case scenarios. The device will cost $599 when it becomes available.

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The Geminoid Robot
  1. Geminoid Robot

This life-like robot showed up at the World Robot Exhibition in Beijing earlier this year. Named Android Geminoid F, the robot already has fans, with some even describing her as ‘sexy’ (I can personally think of a few more accurate words!)
Geminoid is designed act like a human with rubber ‘skin’ and a woman’s face – but can’t walk and has to be wheeled around. The robot was created by Hiroshi Ishiguro Laboratory at Osaka University who plan on creating a better model in the future. The robot can smile, furrow her brows and move her mouth. It can also talk and sing – playing recordings, or ‘mouthing’ other people’s voices. She is equipped with motorised actuators, powered by air pressure, which allow her to ‘copy’ human facial expressions. The current version of Geminoid F costs $108,600 (£72,000).

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The activPAL will be worn in a similar way to the Fitbit
  1. ActivPAL

Hoping to bring new help to people with dementia, the activPAL tracker, which is strapped to the bottom of the leg, measures all movement from side to side, up and down, and backwards and forwards. It sends the information back to a computer which analyses it to provide details about how long a patient spends sitting, how active they are, when they eat, whether they are going to bed at the right time and how many times they get up in the night. The movement can give dementia patients and their carers details about their lives, which they can use to monitor their health. Dr Chris Pickford, of the University of Salford, said the technology could provide unique insights into patients’ conditions and help spot problems before they become serious.

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The Lean Elderly Assistant (LEA)
  1. LEA

We wrote a post about this earlier this year when one of our project leads Jobeda Ali went to the launch of the LEA. The Lean Elderly Assistant robot (LEA) pretty much looks like a stroller with an iPad stuck on top. LEA helps with walking and transferring, however it is also disguising hundreds of extremely useful functions, sensors and programmes that are continuously being refined. For example, it can remind you to take your medicine or physically help with exercising. It does not ‘feel’ to most users and the public like a robot.


Not technically a robot, but we would be remit if we didn’t mention an app which has been doing well this year. SAM, co-designed by CHIRON’s own Praminda Caleb-Solly is a free self-help app for anxiety. It has been downloaded by over 500,000 users from more than 100 countries since its launch in July 2013. It has been in the top 100 health and fitness apps in 85 countries and received thousands of positive reviews. The SAM app helps users to cope and deal with common symptoms associated with mild to moderate anxiety. It enables users to monitor their anxiety levels and visualise an anxiety profile over time, also to discover and apply self-help techniques via multimedia mini-games.


Success for CHIRON’s Sanja Dogramadzi

CHIRON projects’ Professor Sanja Dogramadzi from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) has been named in RoboHub’s fourth annual ’25 Women in Robotics You Need to Know About’ list.

Following a seeming trend in the CHIRON team at the moment (see Praminda Caleb-Solly’s success as STEM woman of the year a few weeks ago), Sanja has joined the ranks of other incredibly successful women on the CHIRON team.

Professor Dogramadzi develops medical and assistive robots at the laboratory. Her research focuses on the multidisciplinary use of robotics technologies in healthcare settings. She has been awarded funding in excess of £2.5 million since 2009 and is currently supervising and managing a team of 15 post-doctoral and doctoral researchers and junior lecturers.

The fourth annual ’25 Women in Robotics You Need to Know About’ list was compiled by RoboHub in celebration of Ada Lovelace Day. In all, 100 women have been featured to date with the list showcasing women working in research, development, and commercialization of robotics.

Shadow opens office at Future Space at UWE Bristol

The article below has been reblogged from Shadow Robot’s website with their permission.

One of the UK’s longest-running robotics companies, Shadow Robot Company, have just opened a new office in Bristol’s Future Space which is based at the University of West England (UWE Bristol), adjacent to the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL).

Shadow are a partner in the Innovate UK-funded CHIRON project, a two year programme to design care robotics for the future, partnering the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and Designability, amongst others.

Managing Director of Shadow, Rich Walker, said “Having an office in Bristol is perfect for us. We have many links out here in the west of England, and it’s a great base for us to work closer with our partners on the CHIRON project.

“We’re also keen to build new relationships in this area, and Future Space seems like the best possible fit for us in terms of location and links to other innovators and businesses.”

The Centre Director of Future Space, Elaine McKechnie said “The Shadow Robot Company is a perfect fit for Future Space and we are very excited that they have decided to set up a base here. Shadow joins a growing group of engineering and technology companies that are seeking to work in a stimulating environment that will nurture collaborative opportunities.”

Associate Professor Praminda Caleb-Solly is leading the BRL element of the CHIRON project, and said, “Ensuring that our research into development assistive robots has the potential to reach people and make an impact in the real-world requires working from the start with commercial partners such as Shadow. The BRL distinguishes itself from other research organisations in this area by working in a participatory manner with not only commercial enterprises who have experience of delivering market-ready products, but also people who will be using technology in their homes and care organisations.

“It makes huge sense for the Shadow Robot Company to take up a base in Bristol. We are working together with commercial partners on other robotic solutions to help older people live for longer in their homes. We’re delighted to have such an established robotics team joining us next door to the BRL and hope this proximity will help us develop further research collaborations.’

The CHIRON project (Care at Home using Intelligent Robotic Omni-functional Nodes) looksto create a set of intelligent modular robotic systems, located in multiple positions around your home; CHIRON could help you with personal hygiene tasks in the morning, help you get ready for the day and even support you in preparing your favourite meal in the kitchen.

It is being managed by a consortium led by Designability. The key technology partners are the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and Shadow Robot Company, who have considerable expertise in conducting pioneering research and development in robotics.

Award winning social enterprise care provider, Three Sisters Care will bring user-centered design to the very core of the our project. Smart Homes & Buildings Association will work to introduce the range of devices that will create CHIRON and make it an indispensable presence in our homes.

STEM Woman of the Year

Dr Praminda Caleb-Solly (left) STEM Woman of the Year at RWOTY Awards

By Sinéad Nolan

This week the CHIRON team were delighted to congratulate one of our project leads, Dr Praminda Caleb-Solly, on winning the Red Woman of the Year Award 2016 for STEM.

Selected from five shortlisted nominees to be named the most inspirational woman in STEM in 2016, Praminda’s success will hopefully spread ripples further afield than her department at Bristol laboratory where she is an Associate Professor, to the wider society where women still only account for a shocking 12.8% of the entire STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) workforce.

The majority of Praminda’s work focuses on developing technological solutions for people living with disabilities or long-term health conditions. She played an influential part in developing SAM (Self-help for Anxiety Management), an app to help people to understand their anxiety, monitor anxious thoughts and follow self-help exercises. SAM has had over half a million downloads to date. Praminda also works for Designability in Bristol as their head of electronics and computer systems. She said of the award:

“I feel very honoured indeed for the recognition. While we still do not have enough women working in STEM, there are a number of amazing women achieving so much and to be selected feels very special indeed. It inspires me even more to ensure that I do my very best to get more women and girls involved in exploring the opportunities offered by working in STEM related areas. One of the biggest challenge is overcoming the misconceptions that STEM subjects are hard or boring – we need to do more to show the creativity in STEM and the myriad of exciting application areas.”

She added: “Engineering today requires good communication and listening skills in addition to technical understanding and expertise. There is so much useless, difficult to use and unattractive technology out there, which frankly is a disgrace. We know that taking a participatory approach to design and applying user-centred methods for design and development can make all the difference (…) however with more women coming in, bring with them different perspectives and agendas is helping to break the barriers to let in new ways of approaching the challenges that our society faces.”

Now in their eighth year, the Red awards bring together people from a broad range of professions and walks of life, from scientists and creatives, to fashion insiders and charity pioneers, who are all celebrated for being ground breakers and trail blazers in their own right. The event was attended by women from many sectors – with their host for the night TV and radio presenter, Fearne Cotton, and speakers and attendees including Samantha Cameron and Millie Mackintosh.

Samantha Cameron (left) and Fearne Cotton (right)

“The highlight for me was being surrounded by so much energy and passion,” says Praminda of the evening. “I was in awe of all the other women there receiving awards – and a new found admiration for what can be achieved with determination and passion. I would encourage everyone to read about all the nominees. I was most moved by listening to Claire Throssall’s acceptance speech and her courage to reach deep into herself and achieve what she has.”

Of her work, judge Cathy Newman (a judge on the Red awards) said: “Praminda is a star in the male-dominated STEM firmament, but as well as fulfilling her potential, her tech wizardry has helped disabled people lead more fulfilling lives, too. Her app is practical and ingenious.”

But despite all the praise, Praminda was able to keep her feet planted firmly on the ground and reflect after the glow of the event, upon the dual role women play in society and how we still have a long way to go.

“My hopes for the future of women in science is where we won’t actually have to discuss this at all. We would all be equal, respected for what we do, rather than our gender or background determining how we are perceived and pigeonholed.”

“We need a range of different channels to reach out to people and showcase the ability and achievements of women that can often get lost. There was an interesting BBC article last year which was sad to read – The Women Whom Science Forgot. There is still so much sexism in our society where women are judged by their looks rather than their ability and it is vital to make sure that ability and achievement are what inspire and inform our younger generations.

“Acknowledging this is a great way to reinforce what is important, what really matters. There are still a number of places where women don’t get the same opportunities and privileges to help them achieve their full potential as men do. We need to do everything we can to change this.”


Is the Internet of Things the Future of Care?

By Sinéad Nolan

Last week The Guardian ran an article on how the care we need may come from the Internet of Things. The article was interesting and while I didn’t necessarily agree on all points, it was food for thought. It got me thinking about today’s society with our smart phones, self-service tills, contactless payment and Pokémon augmented reality and I realised from that we can deduce one thing at least: humans like technology.

We enjoy things that entertain or connect us, and being naturally lazy, anything that makes life easier and speeds up a process. We also seem to like anything that helps us do things we cannot do. It stands to reason that people in the stage of their life where they need care would elect for a technology that makes their life not only easier, but also more enjoyable, dignified and independent. Doesn’t it?

Perhaps at the moment the answer may be more complex than a simple yes or no. Speak to any group of people and you will find a divide – with many people still worried that this technology (the Internet of Things, assistive technology, care robots) will not make our lives more dignified and independent, but instead make us more susceptible to loneliness and even more removed from society.

Nevertheless, with new apps and assistive technology devices being created every day it seems we are on our way to a smart home generation. Monitors and sensors that link people’s data to their family, their GP and their care provider, ensure our relatives (and all of us one day) will soon be safe from potentially laying on the floor for hours after a fall.

It would be easy for the critical thinkers among us to reject the idea of a smart home outright, and perhaps we still have a long way to go until there is technology acceptance from everyone on this level. Realistically, how many old people want to be monitored 24/7 by their family, and potentially put their most intimate data at risk of exploitation to third parties.

The feeling of trepidation may come from those who look around and see how technology has not, in their opinion, made life happier or better. Those who do not think Facebook is a substitute for reading nor Pokémon a substitute for a cup of tea and a chat. There are those of the pre-Tinder generation who still long for the days of writing letters, looking out windows on trains, making eye contact with handsome strangers in bars, and of relatives who visited to see if you were alright.

Secrecy and privacy seem to always end up as a sacrifice to the god of safety, but hopefully for the older generation of the future we can strike a balance between the two – and who knows, smart homes might lead us into the future of our dreams.

A Care Sector in Peril

By Sinéad Nolan

There is no escaping it, the 2016 ‘State of Care’ report which was released this week by the Care Quality Commission was damning. On the positive side it has meant that we are now forced to look at the stark reality of care in the UK, and if possible do something to fix it. On the negative side we are left with an increasingly fragile system which is simply not fit for purpose. For anyone who hasn’t seen the report, it showed several shocking figures including that almost 1,500 care homes have closed over the past six years. The document also warns about the number of home care providers turning their back on council contracts. So what are the main problems facing care providers and the care community in general?

The cost

If home care providers are turning their back on council contracts there is usually one problem: money. The reality for most care providers is that mandatory trainings/supervisions for carers, providing core materials and paying office staff doesn’t come cheap. There are the other costs of running a small business such as rent and bills – add this to the fact that your carer must be paid a living wage and you can see how most care companies find it difficult to turn a profit. Frequently, a local council may offer a package of one half an hour visit per day – in this case the profit can be low or non-existent. Often if care companies take these very small packages, they are at risk of making a loss.

Man-hours versus outcome

The man-hours involved in providing this half hour visit are huge. It involves making phone calls, visiting the clients home, performing assessments and then writing up a lengthy, detailed person-centred care plan. The care companies then must debrief the new carer (for whom they had had to interview, train, DBS check and get references for). This short visit does also not include travelling time there and back home for the carer (for which they may only receive between 3 and 4 pounds for completing). The workload does not stop there – communication, monitoring the client, checking their daily notes and completing regular risk assessments are essential for safeguarding that client. When care agencies take on a client they also take on a responsibility – it means being able to provide cover when their allocated carer cannot make it, and being responsible if anything goes wrong.

Ageing population

So why are our systems under strain is it just government cuts – or is it also an increased need? Statistics are now showing it may be both. Simultaneous to the cuts is the increasing size of the ageing population. People are living longer, healthier lives. There is an increasing care workforce shortage, and signs are showing that technology will soon be picking up the slack. This is a controversial topic (at least when you get to the point where people are talking about care robots) yet assistive technology and technology itself seems to be the only light at the end of the tunnel in this current ageing population/care workforce shortage crisis.

Prioritising what works

The problem with the system seems to be that we are not prioritising funding in the right way. The irony of this cut in funding is that keeping people at home (rather than in hospital or anywhere else) is cheapest for the system, and time and time again evidence also shows people much prefer to stay at home. The cuts are also leading to dangerous and expensive bed blocking in our hospitals. So why are the funds being cut from the care sector when this is the sector that seems to make the most sense, not only from an ethical position, but from a monetary position too? Which begs the question: will we recover our country in care crisis? It seems, only time will tell.

Sinéad Nolan is the Research and Communications Officer for Three Sisters Care – a domiciliary care provider in London who are working on the CHIRON project. 

The iPal – a help or hindrance to child development?

The article below has been reblogged from Shadow Robot’s website with their permission.

Have you seen this article on The Guardian? The iPal robot launched at RoboBusiness in California last week and is causing quite a stir.

According to Avatarmind, the company that created the robot, the iPal is a 3ft tall companion robot for children aged 3-8 years old. It has a tablet on it’s chest which children can interact with; one of the best uses of the robot is as a teacher – the iPal will answer those tricky questions (for example ‘why do we hiccup?’), however if the robot doesn’t have an answer, it passes the question on to a human at Avatarmind who will respond with the answer, and therefore growing the iPal’s knowledge along the way.

FullSizeRender                                                                         ©Avatarmind

iPal also has the ability to monitor your child, allowing you to message or video chat with them. Speaking to the Guardian earlier in the year, Professor Noel Sharkey (Emeritus Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at the University of Sheffield) said “robots are a great educational tool for children. It inspires them to learn about science and engineering, but there are significant dangers in having robots mind our children. They do not have the sensitivity or understanding needed for childcare.” and when Julia Carrie Wong of the Guardian pressed him about the iPal, his message was clear: “This is awful.”

However, Professor Tony Prescott of Sheffield Robotics, speaking at the London Innovation Summit 2016, said that robot companionship would be better for you than interacting with a screen. Our MD, Rich Walker, said that socially anxious children could even go on adventures with their companion robots.

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Hello Kitty – A tool for projection?

The iPal has large eyes but an empty face – a look made popular by Hello Kitty (whose creators purposely didn’t add a mouth so that the viewer could project their emotions onto her, this way Hello Kitty is always reflecting our mood). The iPal seems to be a high-tech version of ‘My Size Barbie’ (a 3ft tall doll); it is perhaps an almost natural progression to pop a screen on a toy like that and bring it to life. But what do you think? Would you prefer your child to play with an iPal or an iPad?

Tweet us your thoughts at @shadowrobot or @chironproject or feel free to comment below.

Upcoming event – Robots vs Humanity

The CHIRON project are excited to be hosting an event called Robots vs Humanity at Google Campus, London on the evening of 1st December 2016!

Attend Robots Vs Humanity to enjoy talks from robot engineers, psychologists, inventors and tech entrepreneurs as they explore the next generation of robots, technology, and humanity. There will even be a visit from Pepper the service robot!

Tickets are free – available from Eventbrite.

*List of confirmed speakers to be updated on here at a later date*