A Robot programmed to help people with dementia locate things like medicine, glasses, phones and other objects they have misplaced, is being developed by engineers at the University of Waterloo.
Dr. Ali Ayub, a postdoctoral fellow in electrical and computer engineering, and three of his colleagues who are working on the project noticed the rapid increase of individuals with dementia and realized there was a need that had yet to be fulfilled.
Dementia is described as a general term for loss of memory, language, problem-solving and other thinking abilities that are severe enough to interfere with daily life. It greatly affects memory and causes confusion. Those coping with dementia often repeatedly forget the location of everyday objects, and forget where they put things, which not only diminishes their quality of life, but places additional burden on caregivers.
Ayub and his colleagues came up with the idea of a companion robot with an episodic memory to help those who suffer from dementia find things.
The research team began with a Fetch mobile manipulator robot, which is equipped with a camera for viewing the world around it.
They then used artificial intelligence to create a new kind of artificial memory that uses an object-detection algorithm that is programmed to detect, track and keep a memory log of specific objects within the view of the robot’s camera, which is also stored in video. The robot is able to distinguish one object from another and it can record the time and date objects enter or leave its view.
The researchers then created an interface to enable users to be able to type in the name of the objects they want to keep track of. And should any of the items selected by the user and logged by the robot go missing or someone forgets where to find them, the object can be searched for on a smartphone app or computer. The memory program will indicate where the object is or when it was last recorded being removed from the robot’s camera view.
Preliminary tests have found the system to be very accurate.
You don’t have to have dementia to find the idea of new technology intimidating, especially if you are older, but it will be most likely used by the caregivers who should find it relatively user-friendly.
Testing will be moving out of the lab so the researchers can conduct user studies, first with people without disabilities, then trying with those who suffer from dementia.
Though the focus of the project for now is targeting assisting those with dementia, we’ve all been in a situation where we’ve lost or misplaced something – phone, keys, sunglasses, wallet… There is definitely a wider application for an ‘item recovery’ program if it can be adapted to be integrated into smart home technology that would benefit a lot of people that don’t necessarily have dementia.