Teresa Escrig

News and oppinion about Cognitive AI & Robotics

Design of a robot for the elderly: aspect and functionalities

leave a comment

If you were going to design a companion robot, what would it look like?

What would it need to do?

What would they call it?

How would it change the life of the elderly?

I asked those questions to my colleges at the LinkedIn groups related with Artificial Intelligence and Robotics.

I will be posting their answer here. Thank you very much for all your contributions!  Keep an eye to it…

by Elad Inbar (LinkedIn Group: IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (IEEE RAS))

Check out this new movie… I think it will gove you many answers.


I post the trailer below: Frank Langella and Liv Tyler on their Sundance hit ‘Robot and Frank,’ about an elderly man living with a home health aid robot. (March 23)

by Huma Shah (LinkedIn Group: Robotics and Machine Intelligence)- Okay, if it were to assist an elderly lady a companion robot could be shaped like a handbag. It should have speech recognition with an ability to verbally remind about medication times, appointments, as well as act like a personal assistant, like the all-knowing virtual librarian in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. The handbook should also be an e-book reader and audio book. Not sure what design a male would prefer in a companion robot!

by Jim Falasco (LinkedIn Group: IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (IEEE RAS)) – Posts on http://surveillance-securityinanasymmetricalera.com address some aspects of the robotics market past and present. A companion robot is a very different market space then today’s UGV’s that deal with EOD’s, HAZMAT and ISR. Anything used by the elderly would need to be simple to control, cost effective, appear non threatening and most of all perform essential services vs. gimmick. The dream of companion robots has been around since the SCI-Fi craze of the 1950’s. It is possible with the enabling technology of today to achieve this goal if it is done in a business vs. cute technology model. A companion robot could really change elder care. With a huge part of the population moving into that demographic depending on human caregivers just won’t get it done.

by Craig Hines (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – Primary functions of general health monitoring, emergency reporting, cleaning. Communications medium for the blind with speech recognition benefits. If it were to attempt to hold a conversation it could become an annoyance unless artificial intelligence makes a huge leap forwards. Dogs and cats make good companions and they barely have any words to speak.

by Mick Walters ( LinkedIn Group: Human Robot Interaction (HRI)- Our group has done quite a lot of work on what people’s expectation are regarding companion robots. The idea of consistency of appearance, behaviour and functionality is important for how people perceive robots. E.g. if the robot looks human-like to some degree, then people (unconsciously?) assume that it will have the same degree of human-like capabilities and behaviour. If their expectations are not met, i.e the robot looks the part, but fails to deliver, then people asses it as inconsistent or dishonest. In the worst case the effect becomes eerie or repulsive (Mori’s Uncanny Valley) – some useful links to our work:

  • K. Dautenhahn (2004). Robots We Like to Live With? – A Developmental Perspective on a Personalized, Life-Long Robot Companion. . In Proceedings of the 13th IEEE International Workshop on Robot and Human Interactive Communication (RO-MAN 2004), Kurashiki, Okayama Japan. pp. 17-22 IEEE Press http://homepages.feis.herts.ac.uk/~comqkd/DautenhahnRoman-4-Invited.pdf
  • K. Dautenhahn, S, N. Woods, C. Kaouri, M, L. Walters, K, L. Koay & I.Werry (2005). What is a Robot companion – Friend, Assistant or Butler?. In Proceedings of IEEE RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robot Systems (IROS’05), Edmonton, Canada. pp. 1488-1493 http://homepages.feis.herts.ac.uk/~comqkd/Cogniron-IROS-Dautenhahnetal.pdf
  • M, L. Walters, D, S. Syrdal, K. Dautenhahn, R. te Boekhorst & K, L.Koay (2008). Avoiding the Uncanny Valley – Robot Appearance, Personality and Consistency of Behavior in an Attention-Seeking Home Scenario for a Robot Companion. Journal of Autonomous Robots, 24(2). pp. 159-178 https://uhra.herts.ac.uk/dspace/bitstream/2299/3388/4/906071.pdf

by Jean-Gabriel GAUTIER CPP-EMBA-EDHEC (LinkedIn Group: Robot Business On Line) – Another and final point. As Pricing Manager, one of my objective is to identify customers insight to create value for both the customers and a company. Having say that, I don’t think this is key to add all the available technical features to your companion robot but to bring the ones you’re customer is expecting and ready to pay for ! I Robot is capabale to save time. Do you really think their robots costs as much as they price it ? I don’t think so…

by Jean-Gabriel GAUTIER CPP-EMBA-EDHEC (LinkedIn Group: Robot Business On Line) – Hi Teresa, this is a simple but very good question… For children: to be capable to sing music, to make animal noise, to make light during the night, to tell story, to dance, to react to child emotion such like smiling… To be robust but without any risk for my children. To generate cold or warm if my children are warm or cold. To keep secret: special box within to store toys. To follow my child and be capable to stop based on voice orders; A webcam and a Skype function to call family…. To be customized ! the children are not only looking for their own application but also style!  For my house: security & cleaning, but the market segment is pretty well fulfilled, except if you can install a Tazer on the robot or at least a an aggressive sound signal and visual recognition with SMS alert ;0). For me the next step is an integrated solution of robot : house-garden-swimming pool that can be managed with a tool on my computer. For grand parents: “Assistance”. Voice recognition and be capable to transform orders in tangible action such like: “call Doctor”. To be capable to assist / help them if they fall down. To remind today’s actions or medicament to be taken. Fire detection and alarm system.

The look has to be different vs the segments as the price, as the value for the different companion robot will be different.

by saurabh datta (LinkedIn Group: Human Robot Interaction (HRI)) – A robot should look like a robot, may it be designed for elders or for kids. But now-a days it is seen that japan Is really taking some hard steps in developing human alike bots .. But that may bring in some hardcore complications in the future . (everybody has his/her own point of view).. It should be optimum & chic when it comes to it’s size. A cute smart bot will be perfect that reflects the enthuse for the design. As you are mentioning it for elders so it should be user friendly & voice controlled as otherwise it would take some hard time for our elders to get well acquainted with the controls of the bot. About the functions- It should be custom built according to the needs. And then you’ll see whether the changes that you are expecting does meet them.

by Michael Will (LinkedIn Group: Robotics and Machine Intelligence) – I’d make sure it had some sort of laws embedded in to ensure and prioritize no harm to humans, obey humans, no harm to itself. I’d probably name it Robbie :). Seriously, I’d make sure that it was intelligent enough to surprise skeptics and thus make immediate dismissal of the concept difficult. Helping the elderly is easy – memory assistance.

by M. Anthony Lewis (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Consultants) – Good question! I think people are split on using a humanoid form versus something completely not like a human but still creature like. The third option is to make something that is completely utilitarian.
The first option, it is argued, makes sense because only a humanoid can do all of the tasks in a home. Human structured environment have affordances specific to human beings. Also, a human like face (or even a cartoon of a human face) can display some emotion and facilitate non-verbal communication.
The danger is: 1 it would be big and heavy, would therefore be expensive. Yet, it could be viable for the elderly if it were leased say on a monthly basis. If it were really competent it would be well worth the lease price. However, we are not there yet in terms of competence.
The second option is a “creature.” I am thinking that the elderly are old, not demented. They have not become child-like. Old people can be very computer savvy. A creature option makes sense only as a pet-replacement— a robot might give you percentage of the love and affection of a dog or cat but with zero percent of the effort. But, I am not sure if it fills all the needs of the elderly.
The third option is the utilitarian option. Make it look nothing like a human or animal.
If this option is adopted, then you have a model where something like a wii or cell phone would encourage people to socialize and exercise. A very intelligent agent might also manage the finances of the elderly (pay bills on time, move money around as necessary) to make life less complex. Who needs to deal with bills at 80!
Also, facilitating communication with family members. In the US as elsewhere family usually live apart and the elderly persons grown children may be far away.
The magic trick would be an agent that would get the elderly person “into the day” of family members or vice-versa. Facebook does this to some extent, but robotic telepresence, if spun correctly, might be better.
Note that this third option may turn into a system of devices. Think of a kitchen with a fridge, dishwasher, stove etc. Independent islands performing specific functions very well. This is an easier market to delve into, I think, because you only need to demonstrate a value proposition for one specific task.
So in summary, help with socializing, finances, exercise (and health and diet). Basically allow the elderly to be happier in their old age. They deserve it.

Jim Falasco (LinkedIn Group: IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (IEEE RAS)) – If you were going to design a companion robot, what would it look like? Multiple models : Just as in packaging of “Barbie’s” it will be key to project multiple styles. A traditional nurse , rock star, sports star, etc.
What would it need to do? The cleaning is already done by Roomba and Scoba. Focus on tasks that will enhance elder life such as assiting in movement skills, going to get things and bring them back,picking up clothing ,etc.
What would they call it? Again the name would depend on the task models and country. Pedro would not play in Tokyo but could in Dallas.
How would it change the life of the elderly? As an extension of the owner’s personality the effect would be profound.

by Robert Howell (LinkedIn Group: IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (IEEE RAS)) – I believe it should make sure they can live at home as long as they want to the stage they begin putting their health at risk. So..
What would it need to do?
– Plug and play compatibility for quick and easy monitoring.
– Touch screen and voice commands so the elderly and disabled can use the user interface.
– Reports uploaded to doctor or family members for inspection through wireless home network.
– Assist in Elderly Mobility (Provide walking support and simple object detection)
– Check daily medication, meals etc. have been taken especially important with those with early-mid stages of dementia.
– Mobility handle bars could provide simple cardio data
– VoIP with emergency services and family members.
– Temperature sensors to ensure correct heating of the house in the summer or winter. So many elderly die per year by freezing to death or overheating.
– Light sensors to ensure proper sleep routines.
– Perhaps navigation and object recognition to recognize suspected collapses. Then call for help.
I think they are the most essential and yet realistic capabilities with today’s technology.
What would they call it?
Care Bear…
How would it change the life of the elderly?
– Ensure medication is taken and that they eating correctly.
– Reports would provide a variety of data useful for family members and doctors to track onset of disease, disability or change in routine.
– Aided mobility around the home.
– Indication of whether additional care and support is needed or a specialist care home.

Some extra functionality:
Notify the regular care-worker/carer via mobile phone application of activity: “Mrs Miggins has not signed off her regular evening meal” / “Mr Jones has possibly collapsed” Then provide webcam access for inspection.

by Sergei Grichine (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – an old shepherd was once asked how did he manage to live to 120; he responded: “you see that sheep? when I am upset I can curse it and kick it, and it never curses or kicks back”. I guess there is a robot-related moral of this story…

by Mika Saaranen (LinkedIn Group: Human Robot Interaction (HRI)) – I do not think we have a single solution here. I would doubt that human like bots would be really convenient or needed yet. I think that if a robot resembles a human being, it needs to also behave like a human being. Otherwise it would give awkward feeling to people it interacts with. I think it will take considerable time before we reach that level of sophistication. However, I think this is an important area of development both for robotics, but also neurological and psychological research.
In my opinion, a companion robot should have excellent speech responses and interface. Actual physical form should be optimized for services the bot provides.

by Philippe Kervizic (???) (LinkedIn Group: IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (IEEE RAS)) – We should care to not mix what we want for our parents (then WE feel less guilty/worry to leave them alone) and what they want for themselves.
As often as possible I talk to old people about robots and what they can/will offer. Almost all don’t want robot at home, they often say: I prefer to live shorter but quiet.
Yet, there are things to do in the future, for sure!

by Craig Spanza (LinkedIn Group: IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (IEEE RAS)) – They should not be called robots (the whole idea is threatening and isolating), just Capable Appliances that allows them to take care of their health and homes so they don’t have to move into a care facility.
A lawnmower – that just happens to cut the grass itself as well as tidy up the yard, pick dandelions and water the plants
A snowblower – that takes care of the driveway and sidewalk shovelling as well as salt and sanding the slippery spots
A clothes washer – that sorts, washes, dries, folds and irons
A laundry basket – that gathers dirty cloths and put clean clothes in the dresser
A fridge – that cleans itself, orders food for delivery, prepares cold meals like cereal and sandwitches
A stove – that prepares hot meals, cleans itself and gets the fridge to order more food.
A dishwasher – that gathers dishes and loads itself as well as delivers clean dishes back to the fridge and the stove.
A phone – that answers, puts the caller on hold, and comes to the owner wherever he/she might be and wakes them up if necessary or takes a message and follows the owner around until it is delivered.
A dog – that fetches things the owner asks for like keys, hobby items, the remote control as well as refilling the toilet paper dispenser and cleaning the toilet. Could also bring fresh sheets to the bed so it can make itself and give the dirty sheets to the laundry basket.
A cat – that monitors health, dusts, wipes the counter waters the inside plants and catches bugs
A subscription to a maintenence plan where a nice young man/lady comes and services the appliances.
I could go on but the idea is simple taking the objects we all grew up with that makes life easier and heavily upgrade their function. not replace the person, augment the persons capabilities like a mobility scooter does.

by Michael Zeldich (LinkedIn Group: Cognitive Modeling) – The RoboCareGivers should behave as a live person educated for that kind of duties, with expanded set of sensors, so they will have the ability to see the patient problems mach earlier than human personnel can.

by Angelica Lim (LinkedIn Group: IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (IEEE RAS)) –  Social contact is an important factor for quality of life among the elderly. It ranks up there with health status (cf. Elderly people’s definitions of quality of life, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 41, Issue 10, Pages 1439-1446, Morag Farquhar).
In my view, robots could provide two social companionship roles: a) day-to-day interactions through telling the news, jokes, etc. b) facilitating social contact with friends.
The former is criticized by some, including MIT’s Sherry Turkle: are we replacing a person’s human contact by a machine’s? And is that healthy?
The latter hasn’t been explored much, but I think it’s a great research frontier. For example, the robot could be used a messenger to give news or gifts from friends around a retirement home, or as a way for family members to visit via telepresence. Social contact *via* robots, not *with* robots.
I think this would also be a great question to ask groups comprised of caregivers or nurses. I’m now visiting with a relative that is bed-ridden; one fundamental thing she needs is a way to sit up from the supine position. I’m sure that simple functions like this (“helps to sit up”!) would go a long way, but they’re only obvious to those working in close contact with the target group.

by Brad Morantz PhD (LinkedIn Group: Cognitive Modeling) – OK, how do we teach humans to treat our elderly respectfully and with care. Go and visit a senior citizen center, you will rarely find family coming to visit, and the care givers move as slowly as postal employees. What care? Only the doctors run to empty to coffers of medicare.

by Tony Ellis (LinkedIn Group: Personal Robotics Group) – For me a companion robot would look like this:

Its called AIMEC “Artificially Intelligent Mechanical Electronic Companion”
What does it do? This is shown in the four page article in “Robot” magazine which is a bit to much to copy here!
We are already working on advanced Ai to help the elderly and disabled.




by Mykola Rabchevskiy (LinkedIn Group: Personal Robotics Group) – Many of “robots” intended to be useful as companions are actually toys or health watching devices.
Real companion robot should provide physical help. For example it can be “smart” replacement for wheelchair – some (legged?) platform with ability to safe move over stairs and ability to rise (to provide access to upper shelf) and lower (up to floor level) your owner. Of course it should autonomously control self charging and will come to owner when called. I well know real elderly needs: my father and my wife parents are around 90…
Humanoid design definitely does not suit such needs, and most complicated part of development is not an human-robot interaction but mechanical design and movement control. Robot should also have a lot of tactile sensors to detect contacts with environment items at any side and any level. But it is not requires to be quick (in most cases pseudo-static approach to movement analysis will be ok).

by Gavin Graeaves (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – I have in previous discussions stated that android or any robot that could replace human/human interaction should not be around for at least 100 years while people work out the new social paradigms about these devices who without AI will have alimited understanding of how to deal with their emotions and that it was too soon for doom sayers to allow AI.
The case of the elderly or completely infirm raises different questions though about the need for social interactions, the present usual lack of them and how then do we want people to “feel” about such a device.
Obviously health and well being are one of the foremost functions so medical monitoring and being able to feed and otherwise deal with the persons physical function. Apart from that such a device should be limited knowledge wise in parameters to speak to person about in their direct lines of interest, it should not at any time be seen to be in anyway superior on a mental level than a human even if the persons brain is dysfunctional like altimeters.
Its far too big a question Teresa to answer in a thread I find. But I guess thats getting at the key points.The robot should always be a submissive character to the human no-matter whether the Robot has a cognitive AI of Mensa level.

by Dr. Paolo Di Prodi (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – Yes I a gree on the submissive attitude and also on the android question: it’s very easy to get into the uncanny valley. There are some good examples of humanoid faces with rubber skin etc. but you can achieve the same result with a simple display.
I would say the most important factor is to have a robot which can safely operate in the human environment and don’t care much about the human likeness.
For instance I am really really afraid of Teletubbies, I would recomend avoid anything that resemble by any mean a Teletubbie! 🙂

by David Buckley (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – I am glad somebody else thinks that way about Teletubbies, I asked around and it appeared to be just me. Regarding the uncanny valley, it is not how things look but how they act. Many people who program robots and animatronics seem to be so enthralled that they have got something to move that they fail to see the moves are creepy or weird and unexpected. I am confident that I can make almost anything (apart from things which resemble Teletubbies) move in a pleasing and friendly way. However, that said, something looking like a decapitated road accident victim is going to be very difficult. On the other hand I have had my walking robots at many science fairs and other exhibitions and they have been handled and interacted with by children of all ages and non of them have been frightened because the actions of the robots are not frightening. The worst reaction was one small child in a pushchair who initially made a cry and then two seconds later was leaning over to pat Condor. The adults often feign fear just to damage their children’s minds like they do with spiders.

by Dr. Paolo Di Prodi (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – Ah yes that is correct, the movements you don’t want to see a fully 360 rotating face (also from some horror movies).
The human psyche is asymmetric: on one side we project antromorphic properties to objects, on the other side we are afraid of human-like objects.
Xenophobia is also another factor but is a cultural learned factor.
I remember the last theory about the uncanny valley is that could be rooted in the bonding with infants wherebe the parents are subconsciously checking if the infant is still alive or not. My opinion is that to be on the safe side make something look like an animal peraphs a Meerkat which is becoming quite popular now in the UK advertising space.
Jokes a part we should hire more psychologist or sociolgists in the future but only if they don’t start analysing robots and making them guilty of sinking too much current from the sockets.
David I like your biped!

by David Buckley (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – Paolo – Thank you.
Unfortunately psychologists and sociologists are the last people to hire because they don’t really have a clue as to what they expound on when it comes to robots. All they have is some meagre ill thought out experiments with preconceived results.
Some years ago I created three Cycler presentation robots which have a little personality program and act on high level commands from a handler. These robots operated by Waste-Watch have performed in schools in front of about one and a half million (yes 1.5 MILLION) children presenting 3/4 hour show/lectures on recycling. When the robots are talking the children listen attentively and when given a chance will crowd round and hug them. The handlers report that maybe once a month a child has to be taken out of a presentation but the teachers always say that particular child has to be taken out of everything and it has nothing to do with the robots. I think when you consider that in general a Cycler is much taller than one of the children that says something.
The TecFoot bipeds Condor and Wild-Eagle have interacted with about 1500 people, they have been seen by many more, maybe 10,000, but they have interacted with about 1500. The Amblers have also been played with and interacted with several hundred people. The girls like to shepherd the robots about, especially Condor, and spend much more time with them than do the boys. About 70% of the girls want to interact with the robots as opposed to about 30% of the boys and that has nothing to do with adult intimidation as often they have been twenty feet or more away leaving the children free. A girl will also spend about three times as long with a robot as will a boy and often after twenty minutes they have to be dragged away by their parents. I now let Condor wander free amongst people and most of the time I have no idea where it is. The FabLab Manchester had its 2nd birthday party on Thursday and I was asked to take the robots, there were about 150 people from business and organisations all stood up drinking and talking. Condor was away in amongst all the people just aiming for the gaps and seemingly never in anybody’s way. Dogs in similar situations often get their toes trodden on but not Condor, I think adults have some sort of built in awareness for toddlers.

by Bill Leweywould (LinkedIn Group: Consumer Robotics) – look more like and robot appliance and less like a human or fuzzy pet. I think more toward the whimsical and not so much utilitarian. Simple. It would help the elderly be free and independent. It would not cease to function when called for, not even momentarily. I don’t want to name it yet.

by Keith Rowell (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – Human likeness is only important for navigating the human scale environment. Stairs are the most difficult obstacle. If a device with wheels like Dean Kamen’s wheel chair could satisfactorily navigate stairs “without spilling the drinks” that would be superior to anthropomorphic legs. I predict domestic robot design to evolve toward multiple legs “probably 6” and wheels, combined. For now, we expect an appliance, like a very sophisticated dishwasher. i.e. it won’t always get every dish clean, it will require attention to maintain, we will come to rely on it, and it will fail, but ultimately we will re-arrange our lives to fit it’s foibles rather than go back to life without it. All of course, only if it provides a service we value for an affordable price. Austerity pushes that day further into the future.

by Keith Rowell (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – Humanoid shape is only important for navigating the human scale environment. Stairs are the most difficult obstacle. If a device with wheels like Dean Kamen’s wheel chair could satisfactorily navigate stairs “without spilling the drinks” that would be superior to anthropomorphic legs “computationally and mechanically”. I predict domestic robot design to evolve toward multiple legs “probably 6” combined with wheels. This provides redundancy. But if a ball could climb stairs, there’d be no reason not to emulate “Rosie” from the Jetsons and have only one “wheel”.
In 100 years, expectations will be different, But for now, we expect an appliance, like a very sophisticated dishwasher. i.e. it won’t always get every dish clean, it will require attention to maintain, we will come to rely on it, and it will fail, but ultimately we will re-arrange our lives to fit it’s foibles rather than go back to life without it. All of course, only if it provides a service we value for an affordable price. Austerity pushes that day further into the future.

by Gavin Graeaves (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – True David, when it comes to footprint we have the technology now to design a device with some functions like the Karman chair and other devices that have had some very good idea’s but have been limited by the technology.
Now there has been a significant amount of development $$ thrown into single or Personal Transport Vehicles that a number of fantastic components are available off the shelf and its the software that requires the work for each functional enhancement.
I am working on a project right now with several local Universities one of who has a “Development Workshop” that they share technology development between themselves, Helsinki and Stanford to put the technology in place.
So I am very excited about the outcomes and the development of a base platform that has the most mechanical functionality with the software to drive it and can be used from people to developed into other machines.

by David Buckley (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – Nothing wrong with Personal Transport Systems having smarts but they are not what I would call companion robots and I think that goes for all the general public too. Companion robots will be inside houses, next to people, they will be company for people, not tools or equipment people use even though they may indeed perform tasks.

by Mykola Rabchevskiy (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – @David, companion robot can’t replace social networks and video calls which are widely available just now because we can’t make robot as smart as human (now and in nearest future). It also can’t replace pets because much higher ownership cost. But it can help to increase mobility, and many people are ready to pay for such service because lack of mobility is a root cause of many other problem. You’re right, such robot should operate in very narrow space – but such design is possible and is much less expensive than typical humanoid. Human-like exterior is similar to bumper stickers: some people is very excited but most not need

by David Buckley (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – @Mykola – I agree with you but this topic is about companion robots not mobility devices. Self parking and self driving wheelchairs are not, and unless we manage to build real Transformers never will be IMO, companion robots. Mixing up the two types of robot we end up in Ron Goulart’s world of “What’s Become of Screwloose? and Other Inquiries,” where your can opener chats to you and the dishwasher jumps out of the window.

by Mykola Rabchevskiy (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – @Sergey, fully automated house is not an alternative to mobility.

by David Buckley (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – I have spent time over the last 30 years hearing people talk about the automated house. It is all nonsense. It would be impossible to retrofit existing houses with all the services and conveyors and lifts and storage systems, and new builds would have to be twice the size of existing house just to fit in all the required gubbins. Then there is the problem of maintenance access and cleaning, of course the maid or mother or wife does that don’t they, either that or it is not even considered, Hey, have you ever looked inside air conditioning ducts? You are breathing that stuff.  Elderly people are not looking for a robot with a futuristic look. Instead, the robot tends to drive back the person due to its alleged technical complexity. Therefore, the first step to work on is the acceptance of the robot by the elderly.
The value of pets for the lonesome elderly has been demonstrated. We must therefore rely on these results to bring the benefits of the animal to the robot that will strengthen its effect and will not be perceived as complicated to use.
Having the general appearance of an animal, a soft texture and behaviors expressing emotions are therefore indicated. These feature will help the elderly to personify the robot and then to take care of it (see the interesting results of the robot Paro).

by Jerome Laplace (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – The game seems to me to be a nice feature for a companion robot. The idea is to entertain but also intellectually stimulate the elderly. Appropriate games can be designed.
In addition, two robots, each with a different person, can communicate with each other and thus provide a link between people who know each other but can not necessarily meet. The robot then acts as an avatar and each robot plays instead of the remote person.
In return, the robot will take care of the person by being able to contact family or a rescue team if needed.

by Gavin Graeaves (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – @david – its no wonder you see a wheeled robot as anything but a robot when you are designing a bi-ped device but that is where you and I diverge on what will and will not be socially acceptable and able to be a companion to the example of the elderly or even the infirm given the question posed by Teresa. Personally I think you are qualifying and android type device only as a robot and not wheeled devices. The working Biped is years of hardware development away, the wheeled robot is here, now and is only software programming away. A chair/combination or wheeled robot is only the developers imagination and budget away. When you say you dont think a wheelchair would be visually endearing you think in 100 year old technology when in todays example a chair could transform and appear and disappear inside the shell of a robot. You seem to take a very narrow view of what a wheeled robot could do.
You’re dogmatic comments against wheeled robots when so many people are willing to see so many more different examples of robots from Ipads to wheeled robots and other companion devices seems to be a very limited response to the question. I myself have stated why I believe the general public should not have access to a device that is able to engender human emotions leading to companionship bu.t that these elderly and infirm people require this emotional connection but I disagree that the robot should take humanoid or android like form again, these devices as yet do not engender positive feelings in the community as a whole and your limited responses from children are not representative of community views and value. Its a long STRETCH from a kid shaking hands with a robot to people making a commitment to having one look after a person and be their companion.
I hope that iterates the differences in our points of view more clearly.

by Nikolaos Spanoudakis (LinkedIn Group: Artificial Intelligence & Robotics) – Hi Teresa, We have recently worked on projects for ambient intelligence for the elderly (especially those with dementia) and I have some clues. I think it is very important for the robot to look and sound like a familiar person, especially for dementia. It would be great if it could start conversations about the past based on family photos. It should learn the habits of the elderly and identify changes in daily chores that probably indicate a problem and react. Also remind the person about his/her medication and assist in decision making taking into account the context in which decisions are made.
It is a very interesting area for our team too.
Best, Nikos

by David Buckley (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – @Gavin – You are not perchance an architect or a psychologist or do you work in air conditioning? Ah.. you are working on personal transport systems, that is it isn’t it!
I think you need to re-read the posts.
For the foreseeable future companion robots will either be immobile or have wheels. That still doesn’t make a wheelchair a companion robot. And regardless of what you see in films Transformer robots are not real and generally have to exist in a world where the laws of physics don’t apply. It is easy to prove me wrong, just make one.
As for people getting emotionally attached, they already do, they get attached to their cars, they get attached to their TV, they get attached to the house they live in, even the project they are working on, that’s the way it is. Like it or not you are not going to stop it.
Now, seemingly you are trying to force the word companion to have a meaning other than that which is normal and generally understood in English, it may indeed be different in other languages, but here we are using English.
I wouldn’t call the response from 1.5 million children limited, that’s about 2.5% of the population of Britain and in a few years they will be the ones running things. They are going to be the ones making decisions on care of old and disabled folk, they are the ones going to be placing orders (or not) for robots.
It is not going to be the people running things now for the simple reason the robots are not available now, they are still just ideas whi3A

by Gavin Graeaves (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – @David I didn’t realise how much idiocy or slander suited you until you tried it on, now I see its your reason for existence. I have read all the posts dont need to re-read them, you could perhaps do yourself the favor though. I didn’t say a wheelchair would be a companion robot that is your view and your view alone and I was telling you exactly that.
Transforming Robots are very real in the world today such as the chair the moves from 4 wheels to balancing on 2, thats the level of transformation I’m talking about not your simpleton view of movie transformers.
By the time your 1.5 million children become users or influences they will have seen every scary movie scenario we have made about AI which they haven’t at the moment and they will be in the same position that people now are in and I think you should open your eyes to that.
For every point you have I have a rebuke and its pointless to bring it to this thread because its not contributing to the discussion and your post could not be more worthless.

by Sergei Grichine (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – May I suggest a book closely related to the topic – “Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships” by David Levy. Surprisingly, not much there about sex with robots, but a lot about what bond and companionship means to humans, and how we develop relationship to other-than-human subjects.

by Ryan Anderson (LinkedIn Group: Robotics and Machine Intelligence) – Hmm, its probably best to ask the elderly what they want! I’d spend the time getting insight from as many potential users as I can sit down with. I know I’d learn more about what a companion needs to do for them FROM them, than anything else.

by Ifat Yaakobi (LinkedIn Group: Silicon Valley Robotics) – I think that the old age is characterized by the feeling of losing independence (Physical and Cognitive) and feeling of loneliness. In general I think that different ages requires different solutions. The more independent the elderly the more the robot should have the features of a tool. The less independent the elderly the robot should take more features of a caregiver.
Features that can help the elderly to feel independent:
They can take walks (using physical support if required) without getting lost (using navigation abilities if required). I would make an interface from the robot to an “Electric Mobility Scooter” for the time walking becomes hard.
Go shopping on its own (while possible) or using interface that allows the elderly to control the content of the shopping (if going on his own is not possible).
Control house chores by asking if this is ok to clean this and do that.
In general to restore feeling of independence the elder needs to feel in control on the robot and not the opposite way.
Features that can help the elder feel less lonely:
I would enable the platform to act as a communication tool to the outer world (e.g. family, friends and doctors) easily using voice commands (e. g. “Call Beth”).
Improve the state of the brain by playing chass and crossword puzzle with friend and the computer.
I would enable the elder to record their life story to keep for next generations. This give a sense of meaning.

by Ray Scully (LinkedIn Group: Robotics and Machine Intelligence) – The elderly have a few past times that a companion bot could fill nicely. Bingo caller, small dog walker, and it should fold out to become an adhoc portable bench during daily excerise rests. The bot should have a sympathetic ear for listening intently to stories about the war and how everything was better when they were young. The bot should look vaguely human, but have irregular features or a blemish or a limp to complain about so as to allow the owner the opportunity to give vent to his many illnesses, syndromes and general greviences about getting old. The bot should have an emergency alert circuit to activate when the client has fallen and cannot rise under their own power. Also perhaps a clap on, clap off switch. The bot will need to be waterproof and made sturdy enough to survive falls down stairwells and being hit by canes, walkers and other companion bots. If a mobility scooter add on is contemplated, a nice drink holder and basket wouldn’t be am iss.

by Craig Hines (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – Thanks Ifat, very practical and empathetic ideas. The client should always feel they control their destiny and their robot.
At least one major powerchair electronics company has made the first steps towards integrating an iPhone into the wheelchair electronics, albeit only as a display at this stage.
Others are looking at similar interfaces. Getting apps approved by the likes of Apple would be an uphill battle if you were to attempt to get a device to drive their electronics due to liability concerns.
There are simpler ways to interface with drive electronics, such as 4 switch drive. I think that auto drive and GPS would be a most useful companion robot, especially if it came from a tablet type device that also provides communication, games, and at least a semblance of intelligence in that they are quite capable of automatically learning daily routines, preferences, and can be a speech machine with predictive input, for those that have to spell out every sentence. I have seen power chair trials go out that were doomed to fail as the client was legally blind, or incapable of operating a switch to drive, yet could speak well enough for voice commands.
Give someone more independence so they can get out into the community for companionship.

by Darlene Pantaleo (LinkedIn Group: Robotics and Machine Intelligence) – It is not just the elderly who would benefit from a companion robot. My son is in a power chair and cannot get meals or drinks for himself. He cannot reach for things and needs both hands to hold most things. A companion robot would make his life incredibly more independent.

by Keith Rowell (LinkedIn Group: Robotics and Machine Intelligence) – 1. Assuming I’m mentally aware but physically disabled, a senior care bot needs to be able to carry me, lift me from my bed, carry me to the bath. I’d like the dignity of autonomy even when I’m an invalid. Reach and carry and basically be my surrogate body. If it’s an “invisible friend” reminding me of my medications, there’s no physical robotic requirement there. If it’s a service robot, cleaning the house, my age is irrelevant.
2. Assuming I’m mentally compromised, my “companion” bot would help me stay grounded in reality; supplement my personality like a wiser alter ego. This “synthetic personality” would have to evolve and grow to match my cognitive level, or compensate for the lack there of. So compromised, when I asked “where is my robe?” I might not be able to discern if the answer came from without or within.
Navigation of the muddy waters of my own tenuous grip on reality, by software that can have only a simulation of reality, sounds like the blind leading the blind. But what an interesting exercise!
You are quite specific that it’s a “companion” though. That means remembering and recounting our conversations and understanding their meaning. I can picture that at some point, there will be more of my personality in the software than in my physical body. Is this the singularity?

by Mykola Rabchevskiy (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru ) – @David, no objections against such definition of companions. But it actually means that very different objects. For you phone can’t be companion, for many programmers computer can be – really! And many drivers speaking witch his cars… Embodiment can be quite different, but it probably should be presented in past environment of companion owner. I have cat and lathe – so for me both cat and lathe can be companion but not a dog or teddy bear 🙂 Some non-presented before can be very attractive to one and very repulsive for another; it is pure psychology.. So when I describes potential “robot companion” I placed utility functions on the first place; this approach is more universal but of course it is different area. Our approaches are not mutually exclusive, there are just different things.
A couple words about your “pure companions”: there are at least two problems that should be resolved before such robots (independently on embodiment) become available and affordable:
[1] robot should distinct your owner from other people
[2] each robot should have a lot of differences from other, i.e. should have personality including personal exterior and should be easily recognisable by owner.
Both are very real problem (first is non-resolved technical problem, second is technological and financial problem: individual production has obvious drawbacks).
But when these problems will be solved utility robots (at least in some cases) can be “pure companion” too.
And last: my opinion about what robot can be useful is just generalised opinion of a few senior people.

by Gavin Graeaves (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru ) – I add to that there is no point the companion being left at home even if it is just the ability take the memory of the companion with you for integration into other more suitable devices.

by Craig Hines (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru ) – If your robot psyche were cloud based, then a taxi, bus, wheelchair, cinema would all act the same way around you and know your needs. A cloud companion. You wouldn’t need your own robot, just dial a robot to help you out of bed, feed etc. At home alone? Your big screen or phone still links you up to face book, linked in or club penguin.

by Mike Marzetta (LinkedIn Group: Personal Robotics Group) – All of the above are great ideas; but I would first automate all of the day to day tasks that humans perform. Some of these technologies exist, but haven’t really ever made it to the mainstream. Just a few examples are vaccuming, auotmatic lights on/off with dimmer, door opener, no touch home water faucet, combined (one touch) laundry shoot-washer-dryer-de-wrinkle (even handles the soap), automatic lawn mower, garage vaccumer, key and phone finder (for when you can’t find them…I could really use one of these), weed puller/poisoner, varuious automated pet feeders, auto-remote car starter, gas-pumper, auto in shower full body blow dryer, etc.

by Mark Worsdall (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – The first model would just follow me around carrying items like remotes, phones, emergency chords. I am in a w/chair and remembering to carry this stuff around is critical but a real pain. So I would want it to follow the w/chair but stay out of my way, automatically recharge via induction charging.
It would also be good if it could sense via weight that the items it should carry are not on it or just been taken by my, then go on a discovery mission to locate missing items.
Webcam and Skype is a must but the video should be available at same time to other apps on it.
It would also like it to have the ability to carry a glass of booze that it can pass to me when transferred into bed. It could do this via extending a tray to me.
I think it should be about 24inches high but the tray would raise up and towards me.
It must talk for verbal feedback.
It must also have a smart phone app for direct control.
I would like it be able to parked it against my wheelchair so while I am transferring the w/chair would not be able to slide away. No, breaks on w/chairs are just to stop the wheels moving, not the chair 😉
That’s all for version 1.

by Michael Grant (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – My design would include voice and visual command recognition and be wirelessly connected to hospitals, EMTs etc. It would be low to the ground for stability, maybe even have four legs(?) and be able to lift and carry it’s owner. For the visually impaired, it would have an adaptive surface coating to help it to be located (or seen) and various light conditions and, of course, be waterproof.

by Craig Hines (LinkedIn Group: Robotics Guru) – Mark’s “LittleFriend” – it is good to have identified version 1, you can’t really make version 2 until 1 is proven. It is also a product that would serve the masses as well if the price was right. The technology is not really ground breaking, but making it affordable would require mass production. Why carry remotes? It can learn remote codes to control the house, or does the house control it? It needs a fairly smart vision, guidance and mapping system to figure out how to get around objects that dropped on the floor. Old fashioned lead acid batteries for stability when the liquor ballast has run low for some reason. The screen folds up from the tray no doubt, and however the tray folds down it would have to be sturdy as a support for transfer. Stability legs (RE Michael) could wind down as mid drive wheels won’t be stable. The Android control system has voice recognition app already. Lifting it’s owner might be for version 2??

by R. Martin Spencer (LinkedIn Group: Human Robot Interaction (HRI)) – Mika, Well said. I agree with you. Hers’s what we think is viable:

We got some surprising and unexpected benefits for the elderly during our alpha trials.

Another interesting article regarding how robot can help the elderly: “More useful than a cat: How robots could help the elderly”.