Recently the CompanionAble project wrapped after four years of research and development, having received €7.8M euros in funding under the EU Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The project was a collaboration between 18 organizations from France, Austria, Germany, Spain, Belgium, England, and the Netherlands. Stichting Smart Homes, a group from the Netherlands, developed an assisted-living scenario that integrated a robotic companion (named Hector) with a smart home environment. Then the project’s target demographic (elderly people with mild cognitive impairments) were invited to test the system by living with it for two days.
Hector, developed by Germany’s MetraLabs Robotics, scoots around the house and interacts with people through both verbal commands and a touch screen interface. It’s one of several mobile robots developed by the company, which carry odd-sounding names like SCITOS G3 (Hector’s official name).
It’s pretty amazing how the simple addition of eyes can give an entirely different feeling to an otherwise lifeless mechanical object. Hector can carry small objects, like your keys, but is primarily meant to be a personal organizer. It can remind you when to take your medication, alert you to scheduled appointments, and suggest activities. The project suggests that, should a robot the likes of Honda’s ASIMO ever be capable of fulfilling such a role, it will be highly prized in this sector for its ability to project an even more human-like personal assistant.
“All participants were very positive about their experience. Even those who hesitated at first, or thought it was a bit scary, saw their attitude change completely. Already after one day, both patients and their partners recognized and felt the benefits and added value of a robot buddy that physically comes to you and talks to you.” said Claire Huijnen. “It is nice to hear that partners think that this robot can ease the burden of taking care of their beloved one. They indicate that to make this system really work, it will have to be flexible and highly personalized, and they recognize a big role for them in this, because as they say; ‘no one knows him/her better than I do’.”
“From the huge amount of observations, opinions, and findings, we have learned that there are still many things to improve, but more importantly that people accept it and like it! This knowledge encourages us to further improve the CompanionAble robot and the interaction between people and technology, leading to the ultimate goal of enabling people to be better carers for each other, and supporting them in their well being and independence. Empower people by means of assistive technology.”
The EU is funding a number of similar projects, including one called MOBISERV (with roughly half the budget) which uses the Robosoft Kompai as its robot platform. The MOBISERV project is scheduled to end this December. Another called KSERA (Knowledgeable SErvice Robots for Aging) has adopted Aldebaran Robotics’ NAO. You can find more information relating to the EU’s line-up of projects with domestic service robots for the elderly here. Two demonstration videos of the robot and smart home system in action can be viewed below.
CompanionAble project partners:
- The University of Reading in England
- Technische Universitaet Ilmenau in Germany
- Assistance Publique Hopitaux de Paris in France
- Groupe des Ecoles des Telecommunications in France
- Fundacion Robotiker / Tecnalia in Spain
- Austrian Institute of Technology GmbH in Austria
- Legrand France SA in France
- AKG Acoustics GmbH in Austria
- Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie de Paris CCIP in France
- AG ESIGETEL in France
- Universite d’Evry-Val d’Essonne in France
- Metralabs GmbH Neue Technologien und Systeme in Germany
- Center for Usability Research and Engineering in Austria
- Universidad da Coruna in Spain
- Innovation Centre in Housing for Adapted Movement in Belgium
- Fundacion Instituto Gerontologico Matia – Ingema in Spain
- Verklizan BV in the Netherlands
- Stichting Smart Homes in the Netherlands