By Sally Abrahms
Aging-in-place technology is helping to improve the aging experience for seniors and family caregivers.
Social Robots on the Rise
For a growing number of households, Alexa, the AI-enabled, voice-controlled personal assistant on the Amazon Echo speaker, has become a family member. “She” can recite sports scores, play song requests or look up appointments. Alexa is joined by “sisters” Siri, Google Home and Cortana.
These devices are multiplying. A 2016 report from market research company Tractica predicts that 100 million consumer robots will ship between 2015 and 2020—including bots that vacuum and mow the lawn.
Coming soon is Jibo, a $749 tabletop robot due on the market this year that interacts with humans. Jibo can tell a joke when you walk in the room and even teach a grandchild simple math. A built-in camera lets it snap family photos at your say-so.
Robots like Jibo are being developed to react to your mood. Tired? Confused? Sad? Happy? The camera reads your facial expression and then converses with you. Elder care assistant robot ELLI Q, for the home market, is being tested with seniors in San Francisco.
Built on the Android platform, ELLI Q draws content from the Web. The robot is connected to a tablet and suggests activities such as “Want to play a game of bridge?” (if you say yes, it will pull up a Web-based game) or “How about a walk?” after you’ve sat in front of the TV for a while. The robot will remind you to take your medicine; it also reads body language.
Robotic pets are making the rounds in homes and senior facilities. At Front Porch, a nonprofit that manages senior communities and has a Center for Innovation and Wellbeing, residents in skilled nursing and memory care interact with Paro, a robotic seal, and a dog and cat from Hasbro’s Joy for All Companion Pets.
Sue Norton-Clapham’s mother Mabel Norton, 98, is an animal lover. Although Norton has dementia and her words are garbled, she talks to Lily, the seal, and Noodles, the cat. She has to share them with other residents of her Chula Vista, Cal., facility, so her daughter plans to buy her a robotic pet of her own. “I work and can’t always be with Mom,” says Norton-Clapham, “so it really makes me feel great that she is connecting to something and still able to have those emotions and be a person.”
Hasbro’s pets include three cats ($100 each) and a dog ($120) that looks like a Golden Retriever. When you speak, the dog looks toward you; stroke its back and you feel a “heartbeat.”
Robotics can be put to use in other ways, too. For example, robotic exoskeletons are being developed for those who need help moving around after a stroke, perhaps, or who have trouble walking. A wearable mobile machine, powered by electric motors and other technology, allows a person’s limbs to move. ReWalk Robotics makes ReWalk for the home and rehab facilities. The battery-powered exoskeleton has motors at the joints, so those with spinal-cord injuries can walk, turn and climb stairs.
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