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.

Apps..

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.

UK Robotics Mission

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

Rich Walker from Shadow Robot recently spent a week out in Taiwan as part of the UK Robotics Mission organised by the British Office. It was a really valuable trip, with Rich meeting Taiwanese companies and roboticists, as well as getting the chance to address them at the TAIROS Industrial 4.0 International Forum. Here’s what Rich had to say about the trip:

“The Foreign Office likes to keep UK business abreast of what’s going on in the rest of the world, and as part of this they maintain a global Science and Innovation Network (SIN) operating out of embassies and consulates all over the world. The Taiwan local team realised that there were lots of activities taking place in robotics both in the UK and Taiwan, and decided to organise a trade mission focused on engagement between UK and Taiwanese robotics companies and researchers.

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“The mission was led by the indomitable Prof. Guang-Zhong Yang from Imperial College’s Hamlyn Centre, an absolute coup for SIN as Prof. Yang is known and respected world-wide. Three British company representatives, from Shadow Robot, Rolls Royce and Aylesbury Automation, accompanied him in a packed week of meetings, talks and workshops.

“For me, it was the first time I had been to Taiwan, and I didn’t know quite how much I was going to enjoy it! The local organisation on the ground was excellent – many compliments to the British Office staff out in Taipei, and the Resident, Damion Potter. We had the support of ITRI, the major Taiwanese research institute, who helped us gain access to a range of companies and organisations from Foxconn and Acer through to specialised technology companies working in our own fields.

“The people were fabulous, the food was excellent, the weather was good, and many fruitful meetings were held. Shadow are starting several collaborations as a result of the trip, and I look forward to being back in Taiwan very soon!”

Robots with Faces: Should Care Robots Emulate Humans?

By Sinéad Nolan

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We are facing a care crisis of epic proportions. In less than 20 years’ time the number of over 65s in the UK, currently at 10 million, will have risen to 17 million. Yet estimates show we won’t have sufficient care workers to tend to this ageing population.
Assistive robots remain the anonymous shadow in the background of today’s not fit for purpose care system. While governments fund projects that focus on designing care robotics for the future (such as CHIRON) we must tread carefully when designing something to work with humans at their most vulnerable stage in life. The question many are now asking is: what should these assistive robots look like? Should they keep the form of a machine, or should they try and emulate a human?

Conflicting Ideas

Science fiction is full of robots-usurping-humans’ stories. If we were to believe Hollywood movies, machines are either out to eliminate us or to trick us into a state of surrender. While attitudes towards robots can vary greatly depending on their application, the care sector can be a very personal and thorny area indeed – especially when people start to consider the well-being of their own parents or grandparents. The word ‘care’ denotes an action or feeling performed by something capable of emotion. So is it ethical to design a machine that we feel could care for us, and should we risk eliciting an attachment to this machine in the way we might to a human caregiver?

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Attachment Theory

One way to look at this issue is through Bowlby’s theory of attachment. Attachment does not have to be reciprocal.  One person may have an attachment to an individual which is not shared. The evolutionary theory suggests that children come into the world biologically pre-programmed to form attachments with others, because this will help them to survive, and that the determinant of attachment is not food, but care and responsiveness. While Bowlby’s focus is mainly in between primary caregiver and baby – attachment patterns which come from childhood can repeat throughout our adult lives as we attach to new partners or friends. In fact, if we attach to a robot it might not be so bad, but we may bring all of our previous attachment issues with us. Which leads us to experience the robot not as an object or machine, but instead as a similar replica of our early caregivers in that might have been angry or rejecting, kind or smothering.

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Anthropomorphism

Humans developing emotional attachments to robots is well known, and well documented. If humans can form bonds with pets (who can reciprocate on some level and who often rely on us for food and affection), some might ask, why not robots?
It’s surprisingly easy for humans to endow robots with personalities. We are likely to anthropomorphise something if it appears to have many traits similar to those of humans, through human-like movements or physical features such as a face.
According to Rick Nauert PhD, ‘anthropomorphism carries many important implications. For example, thinking of a nonhuman entity in human ways renders it worthy of moral care and consideration. In addition, anthropomorphised entities become responsible for their own actions — that is, they become deserving of punishment and reward.’

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Humans

So, if care robots are merely designed to do a job, is it healthy to attach to them, and what about if they need to be replaced? The Channel 4 series Humans covers this issue. One of the characters – Dr. George Millican, a retired artificial intelligence researcher and widower who suffers from an unknown disability forms a special bond with his outdated care robot named Odi. George refuses to let go even with his GP insisting it be recycled, and goes to many lengths to conceal the care robot (with whom he has formed a father/son like attachment with) from the authorities.

While fictitious, this idea is not entirely far-fetched. In the real world in 2013, researcher Julie Carpenter documented soldiers who developed strong emotional bonds with their robotic helpers, to the point of experiencing frustration, anger, and grief when the robots were destroyed on the battlefield. Some even held funerals for them.

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Odi – Care robot in Channel 4 series ‘Humans’

Robot Friend

Currently on the market in Japan, is a fluffy robot seal companion named Paro. Used by the older generation, Paro does not help with the dishes, carry heavy items or administer medication. Instead, Paro offers companionship, responds to being stroked and behaves more like a pet. In a BBC article regarding the robot a Japanese care home resident Kazuo Nashimura, said: “Paro is my friend. I like it that he seems to understand human feelings.”

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Paro robot companion, Japan

Which all begs the question – if we build something that seems to understand us, something that can talk to us and something that can help us with all of our tasks; a robot to share our ups and downs with, who can help us sift through our most poignant memories – is this be ethical and can we detach from what is real and what is not?

 

Are Robots the Future of Care?

by Sinéad Nolan

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Pepper: Robots need love too

Elderly care is a concept we barely think about until it concerns ourselves or our loved ones, but as you may have noticed its been in the news a lot lately. The reason for this is that the over 65 population in the UK is growing. Estimated to increase 7 million in the next 20 years, soon an estimated 1.7 million people will be of an age where they require care which will create a severe workforce shortage in the care industry.

In monetary terms, this increase in population will lead to public expenditure on long term care to rise from 11.3 billion to 31.1 billion by 2032, with private expenditure to rise from 7.3 to 22.4 billion in same period. Which begs the question: how do we fill in the gaps in the care market?

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Robobear shows off his lifting skills. 

Enter care robots. Apart from the workforce shortage the current care industry is largely not fit for purpose, with people’s daily living needs going unmet.

With robots such as Paro, Pepper and ChihiraAico being produced in the past few years, care robots are not an entirely new concept. Toyota recently built a nursing aide named Robina, a ‘female’ robot, that can communicate using words and gestures. Robina’s brother, Humanoid, serves as a multipurpose home assistant. He can do the dishes, take care of your parents when they’re sick, and even provide impromptu entertainment: one model plays the trumpet, another the violin.

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Humanoid entertains the crowd

However, it still seems the idea of robots in care might take a while to catch on in the UK, with the idea still seeming quite frightening to many.

An often undervalued job in our society, the role of carer requires endless supplies of patience, commitment and hard work. Carers in the UK work deal with the literal and the figurative human waste that many of us could not, or would not want to deal with. But it is an important job, vital to millions of people on a day to day basis.

Either way, it’s seems when it comes to robotics and the future of care whether we like it or not: change is near.