Maharashtra Institute of Technology (MIT), Pune, has developed 'Chintu', a robot assistant for the elderly which will help them in the daily tasks. The 2 ft tall robot will engage in casual conversations along with reminding them to take medicines on time as reported earlier.
The robot can also dance on Gangnam Style along with dancing like Shahrukh Khan. The final year students of Computer Engineering from MIT Pune developed the robot after they received Rs 10 lakh grant as part of IBM's global Shared University Research grant programme.
The robot uses API's from IBM's cognitive platform Watson along with the Bluemix Cloud platform to create the intelligence behind the robot. The actual robot came from SoftBank Robotics, formerly known as Aldeberan from France.
The robot 'Chintu' can read text from a paper along with being able to sense the mood of the person around using Tone Analyser API. It uses the same API to analyse and respond accordingly to the user, apart from the regular reminders and alarms. One important thing to note is that the team behind it will work on adding new functionalities and optimising code rather than aim for a new product launch.
However, this is not the first 'companion' robot out there as other companies have already commercially launched many companion robots in the market for general users over the years. This is not to rule out 'Chintu's commercial launch, but right now the robot is in the prototype phase and it needs further refinements along with a lower hardware manufacturing cost to come to the market.
Companion robots are a rapidly growing industry in South East Asia. The industry is not limited to elderly and companies are also working on robots focused at young children. These robots help children learn and aid in education along with taking care of them and keeping an eye on them when parents are not around.
However, considering 'Chintu' is aimed to take care of the elderly, we have made a list of top 7 companion robots that are programmed to help the elderly.
Sony's AIBO was one of the first companion robots that started in 1993 as a research project. The original model was ready in May 1999 with about 3,000 ERS-110 models selling out in 20 minutes in Japan. Interestingly, the robots were never intended to be mass produced but citing overwhelming demand, the company launched the second version ERS-210 in October 2000 with new features like name recording and voice recognition.
The company announced third model AIBO ERS-220 in November 2001. The company launched the third and final model ERS-7 was launched in November 2003. ERS-7 was part of the third generation from the company and Sony launched three versions in next two years before stopping production in 2006. This robot was highlighted in a research done by researchers at Saint Louis University in Missouri pointing out that robotic dogs are as good as real dogs at easing loneliness as reported by Reuters.
Nanyang Technological University in Singapore has developed a robot 'receptionist' in humanoid form. The university detailed that Nadine has her own personality, mood and emotions and she will remember your name and the conversation you had with her last time. According to the detailed post on the university website, the robot is the latest social robot developed by scientists at the university while being powered by intelligent software like the one powering Siri or Cortana.
The post further details that it can be a personal assistant or caretaker in offices or homes in the future. The humanoid form will help users around converse with Nadine in a more natural way than other robots out there. Even though the robot is not commercially available but it sure has the potential to play a crucial role at home of the elderly.
Blue Frog Robotics announced a new mechanical companion robot, Buddy, giving out details on its IndieGoGo Campaign page. The companion robot is about two feet tall and moves on a wheeled tripod as a 32GB Android tablet serves as the face and primary input device. The important thing to note here is that the robot comes with the ability to emote a number of feelings based on the sensors. The robot, just like 'Chintu' is connected to IBM Watson's cloud services that allow a more natural interaction.
Developers can use the open-source Unity software and IFTTT compatibility to improve, boost or add new capabilities. Interestingly, Buddy is actually an Android tablet so it can also function as your personal assistant and a telepresence robot. It comes with an integrated Pico projector as an arm attachment that can help tutor kids or function on security patrol. To top it all, according to preliminary tests by Institute for Children with Autism, children easily accepted Buddy as the companion. It comes with 'Elder Care' pack from production allowing it to serve and transport food, beverages and medicines.
RIKEN and Tokai Rubber Industries (TRI) announced the launch of the second generation of advanced caregiving companion robot. The interesting thing about this robot is that it can lift patients up to 80 kg in weight off floor-level bedding into a wheelchair. This was made in Japan where the country is in urgent need of assist care-giving personnel. The company had initially launched RIBA as part of a joint project established in 2007. The robot comes with precision sensors along with tactile guidance, allowing the robot to quickly detect the weight of a person from touch along.
AIST, leading industrial automation company from Japan launched PARO, a therapeutic robot that helps reduce stress by stimulating interaction between patients and their caregivers. It is the 8th generation of a design used in Japan and Europe since 2003 and comes along with five sensors that can perceive people and the companion robot's environment.
Robot dog and cat by Hasbro
Hasbro has announced robotic companion cat and puppy to help elderly people, especially the ones that can't take care of a real pet but would desire affection. The robots are part of the 'Joy for all' brand by the company and have a realistic coat to emulate real cat or puppy.
The companion puppy comes with a 'Barkback' technology which responds to the users’ voice while the companion cat can purr happily. Both the robots will sleep after few minutes of inactivity.
A startup from Israel developed 'ElliQ', a social companion that 'can positively impact the lives of millions of older adults'. According to the company, ElliQ is an AI-driven robot that does not really resemble a robot but a table. The robotic 'table' uses body language, sound, light and voice to express itself. It also uses machine learning to adapt to the needs of its owner. It connects people with social media, online games, and video chat with other users in addition to recommending music, podcasts, audiobooks and a reminder to take a walk after prolonged period of watching TV.
This list is not the end of the line for the work being done in the field of companion robots. Other companies like SoftBank with Pepper and Avatar Mind with iPal are working to break new ground every day. Technologies like Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Microsoft Cortana are unhooking the assistant part from the robots, bringing it to smartphones and laptops near you. Despite the advancements in different fields of automation and AI, the field of robotic companions is just starting off with impending advancement in coming future.