Director of Research Centre for Computers, Communication and Social Innovation at La Trobe Business School, Professor Rajiv Khosla, has been working with socially assistive robots for the past five years.
Prof. Khosla explained the benefits of socially assistive technology at the 30th Alzheimer’s Disease International and Alzheimer’s Australia conference in Perth.
Weighing around 6.5kgs and at about 39cm tall, Charlie the baby-faced robot can sing and dance, read the news, tell jokes, make phone calls for you, receive text and voice messages, videos and pictures.
Robots like Charlie can remind a person to take their medication, monitor their mood and adjust activities to suit and keep friends and relatives connected to their loved one from a distance.
Prof. Khosla said socially assistive robots like Charlie and Sophie can improve the emotional wellbeing of a person who is living with dementia in the home, augment their good memories, bring fun back into their lives and provide respite to their carers while keeping the person with dementia socially connected.
“The primary mission of the research centre is to address social issues in our society especially social issues related to educating population, social issues related to mental and physical disabilities. Our purpose is to integrate social design with the technology design in a social context. Health care, care for people with dementia, care for people with autism is one of our main focus areas,” Prof. Khosla said.
With video camera for eyes a person with dementia, their carers, family and friends can communicate with Charlie using their face, voice, mobile phone or a touch panel with large buttons.
The cameras also allow Charlie to recognise if the person’s is in medical distress or has a fall, it will talk to the person to see if they are ok, keep them calm, alert next of kin or get medical attention for them.
“Importantly, there’s very little training involved with these devices,” Prof. Khosla said.
Socially assistive robots can assist with preventative care and proactive care; monitoring how many steps you have walked in a day and monitoring if you have been active or inactive helping a person to engage in a more healthy life while at the same time providing reactive information about heart rate and blood pressure to your health care provider.
“The whole idea is to bring fun back into the lives of people with dementia, that’s what we’re about. It’s not about Charlie, it’s about the person with dementia and how we can augment their good memories, how we can provide them sensory enrichment,” Prof. Khosla said.
“What we do is we design services around their lifestyle – that means; what is their favourite music, who is their favourite artist, what are the stories they are interested in, what kind of news they are interested in, which relatives they want to keep connected with. The important thing here is not only how we determine these services but how we design and deliver these services in an emotionally engaging manner – that’s the important bit.
“The success of Charlie lies in the fact that when Charlie is singing your favourite song, you are engaged with Charlie and the technology barriers are broken.”
Trials of socially assisted robots are currently underway in homes with the Alzheimer’s Australia Dementia Research Foundation granting $40,000 to assist with the trial. For more information about the project visit the La Trobe Business School here.