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.


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.

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*

Technology vs Humanity

by Sinéad Nolan


Working on the CHIRON project, thoughts of the future and technology progression are never far from my mind. That’s why last week I decided to attend the launch of Gerd Leonhard‘s new book ‘Technology vs Humanity‘ at the Cass Business School in London.

As a seasoned journalist, I know that book launches can be hit and miss. However, the Technology vs Humanity launch did not disappoint. Leonhard gave a fascinating and thought-provoking talk on our rapidly approaching future.


From ethical questions such as whether technology makes us happy, to future issues such as whether we will be the last offline, un-augmented generation, Leonhards philosophical ideas left burning questions in my brain (which I discovered makes 20 quadrillion calculations per second!) long after I’d left the auditorium.

Is data becoming the new oil? Who will be in charge of the global brain? Will we ever reach the singularity where computers can match human intelligence?


Leonhard powerful book looks at where the world is going; the current shifts in technology that will radically alter our society, economy, values and biology. Nearly seventy years after the publication of Orwells 1984, Gerd Leonhard investigates how we preserve our humanity in a world that is rapidly beginning to resemble science fiction.

Misconceptions about designing technology for dementia – it’s simple or it’s impossible!

This article has been reblogged with the permission of Designability – original article available here

Hazel Boyd
, User Interface Engineer at Designability, specialises in designing technology with and for people with dementia. She wants to tackle some myths that are commonly assumed when designing for dementia.

I often hear the same contradiction from people about designing with people with dementia in mind. Some say:

“Your simple, standalone products must have been easy to design”

Whereas some tell us:

“It must be really hard to design for people with dementia”

These views are understandable when they come from people who don’t get to see the design process in action, or from those who have no direct contact with people who have dementia. Part of our role is to educate and inform people to help change those views.  There are quite a few misconceptions that we commonly hear, the most common being:

Myth #1: You can’t ask people with dementia what they think because they don’t know and they can’t tell you

This will be a shocking statement to those who work with people who have dementia. Many people with the condition are still actively enjoying life, using iPads or even writing their own blogs. However, many think that people with dementia are no longer able to give their opinions in a meaningful way because of their illness. But we know that dementia is progressive and therefore does not affect everyone significantly to start with. Those who have always been interested in design or volunteering their views may still be willing and able to continue to do that for some time. There are appropriate ways to speak with those with more advanced dementia to enable them to share their views, opinions and ideas. If product designers do not engage with their customers and product users, they are missing out on a wealth of valuable information.

Myth #2: People are all individuals so you can’t possibly design something that works for everyone with dementia

It’s true that many aspects of a person with dementia are not governed by their dementia. A group of people with dementia will have different ages, backgrounds, personalities, interests and other things.  Similarly, different types of dementia manifest in different ways and progress differently in each person. However, our research has shown that there are some common aspects of design which can work well for many people with dementia. The most common aspect that we deal with is the reduction in short-term memory, which requires us to base our products on familiar and/or obvious ideas. Designing to support poor short-term memory works regardless of people’s differences. In addition, by designing products that work for a large number of people, we are better able to reduce product costs, and help more  people.

Myth #3: That looks simple, so it will be easy to use

It is a common assumption that simple is the same as easy. In our design work it has become quickly apparent that they are not the same at all. Simple design might have few features or dials and look very easy to use. Indeed, for people who do not have dementia, they might be easy. However, many of us take for granted how we adapt when using products, and how well we can compensate for any confusion or lack of information as we find our way around something new. Reduced short-term memory limits this ability to adapt, meaning that simple may not be enough. Straightforward controls which are familiar, or described clearly at the point of use, are essential. If an object is not recognised (the new washing machine or a different TV remote control) it may never get used at all.

Myth #4: Intuitive design is no good, my Dad can’t use a smartphone and that’s intuitive

There seems to be a widely held view that some leading smartphones (for example) are intuitive to use. However, what they actually do is work smoothly, are easy to learn and match what the user wants to do. This learning is something that becomes tougher for someone with short-term memory problems. In our designs, we work hard to make sure that no learning is required and that they can always be used “as if for the first time”. We know that people with early stage dementia, or people with types of dementia which do not initially result in memory loss, can still learn new skills. However, we focus on those without the capacity to learn for our target group as their need is greatest.

These are not the only misconceptions that we come across in our design work. However busting these myths does help designers, carers and users understand why some products work well for those living with dementia and some do not.

What other myths are you keen to challenge in this area? Let us know in the comments.

Hazel was actively involved in the development of our Day Clock, One Button Radio and Simple Music Player and is currently engaged in ongoing research and development in the field of assistive technologies for those living with dementia.

Paralympics and Assistive Tech: The Cybathlon

by Sinéad Nolan.


You can’t throw a table tennis bat this August without hitting the Olympic games. It’s everywhere, from TV screens to newsfeeds to the front of your local rag. While for some the Olympics is the ultimate in competitive sport, for the more technologically passionate (read: nerdy) among us, there are bigger fish to fry.

That’s because October 8th 2016 will see the inaugural Bionic Paralympics, known as the Cybathlon.

What is The Cybathlon?

The name is quite self-explanatory. The Cybathlon is where cyber-chic merges with competitive sport. It is a championship for pilots with disabilities who are using advanced assistive devices including robotic technologies (think I, Robot with a twist). The competitions are comprised of different disciplines that will test the ability of pilots to navigate a series of everyday tasks while using a powered knee prosthesis, wearable arm prosthesis, powered exoskeleton, powered wheelchair, electrically stimulated muscles and novel brain-computer interfaces.

What is its goal?

The main goal of the Cybathlon is to provide a platform for the development of novel assistive technologies that are useful for daily life. Through the organisation of the Cybathlon they want to help to remove barriers between the public, people with disabilities and science.


Who are making these devices?

The assistive devices will include commercially available products provided by companies, but also prototypes developed by research labs. There will be two medals for each competition, one for the pilot, who is driving the device, and one for the provider of the device. Presented by ETH Zurich, it comes out of a collaboration with the Swiss National Center of Competence in Robotics Research, which intends to use the competition to promote the development and widespread use of bionic technology.

I love robots. How can I attend?

Tickets are a snip at just 15 pounds but you’ll have to get to Switzerland first. For more information see  or watch the Official Trailer for Cybathlon 2016 here:

Art vs Science


Art v science.jpg

Art and science can often be thought of as opposing fields. However, here in the CHIRON team we like to get creative with science. Below, Dr Praminda Caleb-Solly, Head of Electronics and Computer Systems at Designability (and one of our project leads) shares her poem about assistive technology…

Where did the inspiration for the poem come from?

One of my recent projects was an Innovate UK Long Term Care Revolution funded project called Connecting Assistive Solutions to Aspirations. The aim was to develop personalised packages of innovative products to help people maintain enjoyable, independent lives in later life.

What was the projects aim?

The work included a review of available assistive technology and aimed to understand older people’s aspirations. The insights from the research helped to surface some startling issues. We found there was a mismatch between people’s aspirations and the aesthetics of the technology available.

When did it occur to you that art could help inspire science?

The problems are so complex that the breakthroughs needed require us to re-imagine and restructure how we think about the design of technology and its use. I received an invitation from the Knowle West Media Centre in Bristol to present at one of their community events, it was accompanied by a manifesto which included a line: “Restore the arts as a core part of the National Curriculum by expanding the priority STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) to include both the Arts and a focus on high-tech crafting and making”. I thought this was brilliant. It inspired me to write something creative for their event, drawing on the findings and experiences of our research participants.

[Are you going my way?] Co-Design? Do you really?

by Praminda Caleb-Solly

Participate they say,
public consultations and co-design sessions
opportunities to have your say,
let’s deliberate,
but do they know what it takes,
for me to get down to the shops would be great

Arthritis and the cold,
my bills are killing me,
and the house might be sold.
You’re always telling me what I need,
In spite of the ‘nothing about me without me’ spiel

But what about that number 4 bus they cut?
And where is the warden when the heating is stuck?
They say they are making the system efficient,
Social care costs have now plunged well past the limit.
There’s a website to voice your objections to the changes,
But I can’t view it, I would if I could, but I can’t even locate it

You can send your views in the post said the chap on the phone,
I wrote ten pages, my patience worn down to the bone,
But then I tried to find the address to send it to,
no one knew,
Still haven’t found out, have you?

To be completed … by you the community

Experience: Assistive Technology and My World



Elle* is a wheelchair user and technology lover who has agreed to be a pioneer for CHIRON. She speaks to Sinéad Nolan about the future of assistive technology…

A 75-year-old grandmother with two sons and four grandchildren, Elle is an unlikely candidate for a robotics enthusiast. Yet as a user of an electric wheelchair, and a lover of sci-fi, Elle has plenty of experience of how assistive technology can help a person, as well as a keen interest in its place in society.

We had arranged to meet last week in a spacious, kitsch café in London with quirky décor – a decision which I later realise fully reflected Elle’s personality.
Once we were both at the table, falafel in hand, she opened up candidly about what brought her to the situation of being in a wheelchair, and her feelings on technology and society as a whole.

‘I had a bad traffic accident on a bus and unfortunately I had radiotherapy for cancer which didn’t help. The muscles in my leg don’t work,’ she explained.  ‘I also lost feeling in both my hands. I didn’t realise how bad it was until one day I picked up a hot saucepan and I couldn’t feel it – I burned my hand. After having an accident and becoming disabled, the things you used to take for granted change.’

Elle’s story is not entirely uncommon. According to the Disabled Living Foundation, there are over 10 million disabled people in Britain, part of which makes up 19% of the working population. Many of these people will not have always had problems but things can change dramatically overnight. The reality is that many of us may need assistive technology at some point in our lives either as we age, or because of accidents or illness. However, as Elle noted, even with assistive technology getting around without full mobility can be a little more difficult.

‘If I want to go and stay in a hotel I have to ring ahead and check that its possible for me to get to the room. I need to think about things like what side of the bed I get in. You have to belt and braces all the time. For everything. Even to come here today – everything.’

Elle mentioned that she owned an I, Robot head from the 2004 movie starring Will Smith, as well as a virtual reality headset, so I was interested to know more about her relationship with technology.

‘It must be part of your life,’ she replied. ‘My relationship with technology is that it’s like a friend. I don’t abuse it. A lot of people may say: “I couldn’t do it” about technology but if you buy a washing machine, that’s a computer. Or a microwave, they are all chips.’


Assistive technology can be defined as “any device or system that allows an individual to perform a task that they would otherwise be unable to do, or increases the ease and safety with which the task can be performed.” However, occasionally this technology can be perceived with suspicion by many who fear a dystopian world with robots replacing human carers.

‘People say with technology it means you won’t go anywhere or do anything but I believe you can do both. I collect books, I have a kindle. My friend has a false eye with a video recorder in it! He’s got a camera in his eye, he can switch it on and see the recording of where he is. I think if you’ve got a space, fill it. What would you do with a glass eye anyway – impress your friends? Who are we going to fit in with – that old black woman, that young white man?’

‘When you come down to it everything is a robot it’s just a different shape,’ she continued.
‘For example, the new washing machine, the Samsung, is a real working, square, white robot. It actually can work out how much powder you need. It will tell you what temperature to use and if you’ve forgot something there is a door you can open. That is technology and to me, that is a robot. It helps you with everyday tasks.’

As a user of an electric wheelchair, Elle has plenty of experience of how assistive technology can help a person. I ask what specifically the best things might be to help a user.

‘I think you don’t necessarily need a computer to be a friend, to say “Hello how are you?” Instead it can be very useful for making beds, pulling duvets over, checking doors, checking lights, to circumvent dangerous things, doing up buttons and zips, just little things that if you weren’t disabled you wouldn’t realise were difficult.’

Overall, Elle is philosophical about society and her place in it as an assistive technology user. What I see over our lunch is that she remained open-minded and strong in the midst of what some people can find a mire of cultural stereotypes.

‘As I have gotten older, and now I am disabled as it were, you do sometimes get treated as a toddler – it’s almost a pat on the head. It’s annoying. Because all you are is older. We live in a culture of division as well. I have a friend and he says (about transport and getting around), “Oh it must be terrible, I don’t know how you do it.”

‘I say, no it’s not, I love it! It’s part of your life – that’s it or you would just stay indoors all day.’
‘Am I supposed to apologise for being alive?’ she adds with a laugh. ‘I’m damned if I’m going to do that!’


Posted by Jobeda Ali

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of attending the dissemination event for the SILVER project in Amsterdam on June 7th.

Like CHIRON, the ultimate end goal for SILVER was to create new technologies to assist elderly people to live independently. Their tagline ‘Technology with a human touch’ approaches the assistive technology sector in a sensitive and user friendly way.


The final ‘winner’ of the SILVER contract was LEA, the Lean Elderly Assistant robot. LEA pretty much looks like a stroller with an iPad stuck on top which is why it’s been received so well. It does not ‘feel’ to most users and the public like a robot or like its too futuristic. LEA does of course help with walking and transferring, however she is also disguising hundreds of extremely useful functions, sensors and programmes that are continuously being refined. For example, she can remind you to take your medicine or physically help with exercising.

The SILVER project spent the past four years searching for new technologies. One of the project’s core objectives was to innovate in procurement processes so the main difference with us is that the project awarded several contracts in a ‘Pre-Commercial Procurement’ (PCP) process. The companies then went through two more stages until they reached a technology ready phase that enabled a full commission. This enables companies to undertake high risk projects in the R&D stage so that real innovations had a higher chance of happening rather than companies needing to play safe to win a contract from governments which are traditionally risk averse. It was funded by the European Commission under the Seventh Framework Programme for research and technological development.

JOBEDA with robot

Eight different ideas/products started out, and LEA, from Robot Care Solutions became the last one standing. However, Dr. Ing. Maja Rudinac the founder of Robot Care Solutions and the lead roboticist on the project, still had to go out and raise another €6million just to take the product to market, a phase that will begin this summer. Through the various stages LEA received about €1million from the EC, which I’m coming to learn is a very small amount of money in the robotics world, as that will pretty much only pay for a decent sized robotics team with very little left over for materials. You can forget about marketing and distribution.




It made me feel that we are lucky we have a budget that from day one includes market research, marketing and distribution. We have just ended our first quarter and I’m already starting on our Business Plan. I don’t know if we’ll be as successful as Dr Rudinac, but it really gave me a lot of hope that perhaps in two years well also be showcasing our product and can report that a whole bunch of investors also believe in us.

You can more information about LEA here:

‘Robots Helping People’

An event at IET – Speaker: Professor Yiannis Demiris, posted by Sinéad Nolan.

Working on the CHIRON project, it is always helpful to attend events to see what other people are up to in the assistive technology world. With that in mind, I went to see Professor Yiannis Demiris speak at the ‘Robots Helping People’ event at the Institute of Engineering and Technology last week (11th May 2016).

Is this the future?

While many people hear the word ‘robotics in care’ and jump to conclusions based around the potential for worst case scenarios often imagined in the media (Channel 4’s Humans springs to mind), the reality at this event seemed rather different. Instead of a dystopian hell which featured robots instead of human carers, it was based more around assistive technology or assistive robotics becoming a supplement for certain basic services a carer might provide.

“I started the lab in Imperial called personal robotics for a particular reason – I have the vision that robots do not belong in factories,’ said Demiris. “They are robots that try to help us in any way they can. The reason I call them personal robotics is because one of the key issues is that we need personalisation.”


User needs

As anyone who has undertaken a project knows, things don’t always turn out as we plan them. That is why user engagement absolutely needs to be prioritised before building anything.

In one of Demiris’ most recent projects they tried to build smart wheelchairs for children with disabilities equipped with sensors to help the user navigate a corridor. An interesting thing happened in these studies – what they found was that many got frustrated when the wheelchair was controlled externally.

One of the mistakes, Demiris says, is for the engineer to assume they know what the user wants outright – instead they need to listen to what the user wants, and think about how they build a better way to make this possible.

‘Eventually, we tried to change the behaviour of the wheelchair to match the skills of the kid that was actually driving. These wheelchairs wanted to be able to adapt to the changing profile of the user.”

Instead of controlling the user, the user controlled the wheelchair – and the adaptive system only stepped in when needed (for example, if the child was about to bump into something).

kid in wheelchair

Adaptive systems

Similarly, some of the robots Demiris designed aimed to observe how you move and tried to modify the trajectories for itself. This manifested in a robotic pair of arms that could carefully and gently help someone put their jacket on (see video here).

From an engineering stance this meant adaptive systems applicable to lots of different domains, whether it was physical cognitive, emotional or artistic.

“They all have the same underlying philosophy of getting some data from the user, building a model and adapting the behaviour to this user.

“We want to build the same technology for every person, and then the application area changes but the underlying technology stays the same. An interactive learning cycle which keeps going constantly with interaction with the user. We don’t use to one type of algorithm, we use lots.”


One of the key issues Demiris pointed out, were the challenges in trying to build a robot that could assist people.

“One is personalisation’s – we have to explicitly model the users’ parameters so we have to be able to adjust the behaviour based on these generic internal model – and then I will change the behaviour. It’s not useful to have the same type of behaviour for everyone.

“Prediction is a key point in our work, there is no point when you are building assistive robotics using traditional AI techniques which rely on collecting all your data, doing some sort of classification, then acting.”

Instead, once Demiris and his team have a model, they try to predict what kind of assistance this particular person needs. They personalise the assistance for each individual user and constantly adapt the assistance to different users.

“If you have, for example, something that helps you walk and prevents you from falling down, it’s no use for you to fall down and then to realise, ‘Ah I should have helped!’ For us the key point is actually doing prediction and prediction means collecting all the data trying to run in forward in time, trying to see if there will be some needs later and acting before the person needs the help. “If you act when the person has already fallen down, it’s too late,” he added.

But limitations and challenges aside, Demiris is positive about the future of assistive technology in the care sector.

“The time where we can have a robot help us for a minute has passed, we are going to have robots among us for longer periods of time and they have to get to know us, to serve us better.”