British boffins have developed a robot which cares for elderly people at home – by monitoring their health, dispensing drugs and even ordering their shopping.
The Kompai robot uses face and voice recognition technology to communicate with their ‘keeper’.
It can remind pensioners when to take their medication, ensure they are eating properly and spot medical emergencies and raise the alarm.
The 4ft tall wheeled robot has an interactive TV screen which allows elderly users to talk to relatives and doctors via the internet.
Scientists at Bristol University and the University of West England hope that Kompai will address the ongoing issue of care for the elderly in Britain.
Professor Chris Melhuish, director of the robotics laboratory at Bristol University, said: ”Robots already exist which make sandwiches and carry out simple tasks but you cannot interact with them.
”We are trying to create a robot which can understand facial expressions and can recognise which direction you are looking in.
”It needs to be able to understand your needs. We are not trying to replace people but are using technology to improve quality of life.
”We are also considering placing webcams on the robots so if you had an elderly relative you would be able to help them if you saw they were in need.”
A prototype robot has been made by French company ROBOSOFT and is a collaboration of research between seven countries.
It hope the technology will allow people to live independently at home for longer.
Another robotic device has been created to help stroke victims increase strength in their hands by analysing how much help to give them when they need to lift objects.
There is also a machine being created at the lab which has been designed to look like a human with realistic facial expressions that help to convey emotions.
Professor Melhuish said: ”We are unsure what the finished products of these robots will look like.
”We are looking 15 or 20 years into the future before they will be in people’s homes.”
Dr Praminda Caleb-Solly, who is leading the user experience research for UWE, said: ”The research UWE is doing is really very exciting.
”We are working with some of Europe’s leading robotic companies in this field, to ensure that the technology being developed enhances the lives of older adults.
”We hope that the health monitoring and the nutrition support systems will help people to track and maintain a better standard of heath and activity.
”This research could have long term benefits in supporting a growing elderly population.
”We need to look at these systems in the context of real lives and ensure that the support they give to older people living independently matches their expectations and meets a real need.”
Dr Caleb-Solly said research was being carried out among elderly people living at home, in residential care homes, and with those living at home and going to day care.
She added: ”We want to know what would be acceptable to them in a personal and social context, and make sure that the technology is easy and intuitive to use.
”It is only when you take things out of the lab and into the real world that you really learn what needs to be done. We want to make sure what we develop is relevant and useful.”
The research will last for three years and is supported by a grant from the European Union of £3.5 million.
Of this grant, the universities in Bristol have received £250,000 toward their research into social care robotics.