University of Hertfordshire lecturer creates robot home helpers with a human touch

A social robot has been designed at the University of Hertfordshire to help elderly people who live

A social robot has been designed at the University of Hertfordshire to help elderly people who live alone. - Credit: Archant

Science fiction could become reality if work being done by a team including a researcher from the University of Hertfordshire bears fruit.

Current Disney hit Big Hero 6 features a healthcare robot while the much-praised 2012 drama Robot & Frank starred Hollywood legend Frank Langella as a grumpy retired crook learning to love the robot butler his family insists he needs if he wants to continue living in his own home.

And those visions of man-made companions for the sick and elderly are a step closer to reality thanks to the work of a nine-strong team which has been working on a project to build a robot to support elderly people living independently.

Dr Farshid Amirabdollahian, a senior lecturer in adaptive systems at the university, has been working on the 4.8million Euro project to create robots that will allow us to stay in our homes as we age.

The proto-type robot he and his team designed uses software called Care-O-bot® 3 and works in a smart-home environment.

This is a home where there are a large amount of sensors which monitor where people go and what they do.

The ACCOMPANY (Acceptable Robotics Companions for Ageing Years) project has been carried out at the university’s Robot House over the last three years.

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Dr Amirabdollahian said: “We were interested in seeing what technology can do, and whether it is acceptable by people, while also highlighting the ethics of having robots in the living environment.

“The rationale is that we are getting older and want to keep our personal spaces, so the question is if we are happy to stay independent while utilising some of these technologies.

“This project proved the feasibility of having companion technology while also highlighting different important aspects such as empathy, emotion, social intelligence as well as ethics and its norm surrounding technology for independent living”

The long-term goal is to trial the robots in real homes and find out if they can prolong independence while also ensuring that privacy is protected.