An EU funded research consortium is developing a robot designed to look after elderly people who live alone. Whilst this may initially sound somewhat inhumane and alienating, the sad reality is that more and more elderly people are living by themselves. Add to that the fact that the proportion of elderly in the population of Europe is continuing to grow. If there is no adult family member able to move in with an elderly relative, then another solution is needed to ensure they are neither neglected nor lonely. Enter “Zacharias” (Zach).
This robot can track the movements and walking speeds of people around him by using a 2D laser sensor to create a map of the surrounding environment. This allows it to help prevent falls and find lost items. It is also programmed to remind the person to take their medication. A future version of Zach might be able to detect the onset of diseases such as dementia or Parkinson’s by noting changes in behaviour and different patterns of physical movement. If any unusual data is picked up Zach would automatically send a message to the person’s family or doctor to alert them.
The robots are now undergoing in-home trials, after which the developers are aiming to integrate them into smart-homes. The ultimate aim is to make the Zach as unobtrusive, functional and user-friendly as possible. Is this part of a ‘Brave New World’? Perhaps… but not one that most people are ready for.