The forefront of enabling independent living – the BRL Assisted Living Studio

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This is a guest post by Prof. Praminda Caleb-Solly, Professor of Assistive Robotics and Intelligent Health Technologies at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, UWE Bristol and Head of Electronics and Computer Systems at Designability.

Intelligent robots, integrated with smart home sensors and healthcare databases, can provide the ability to realise a range of assistive care solutions to support independent living for an ageing population.

Connected and Secure Assistive Robotics Ecosystems

Robotics-based technologies are increasingly being recognised as important tools in helping older people with ageing-related disabilities and long-term conditions improve their quality of life and live independently for longer.

Socially assistive robots, particularly those that can navigate around a person’s home, working in conjunction with a smart home sensing system, can deliver reminders, prompts and guidance for a range of activities. The ability for a robot to take pro-active initiative in response to specific situations anywhere in the home, offers several advantages over a static tele-care system in terms of increased availability, awareness and access.

Increased consumer expectations for an Internet of Things (IoT) enabled home are being driven by smart home automation systems and digital assistants becoming mainstream consumer products. Integrating assistive robots, which add value by providing a physical embodied form for these emerging platforms, is a natural next step in developing a connected assistive ecosystem.

Assistive Robotics Projects in the BRL

Researchers at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) at the University of the West of England are leading the way in the design of assistive robots.

Flagship projects in the Bristol Robotics Laboratory include, MOBISERV, an integrated intelligent home environment for the provision of health, nutrition and well-being services to older adults, INTRO, a research training network to build intelligent robots that can function in real-world environments.

Recent projects include I-DRESS and CHIRON, both developing robotic devices to offer physical assistance. The work in the BRL involves understanding how people and robots can interact intuitively, safely and effectively; designing and testing robots that will be acceptable and enjoyable to use, and ensuring that the technology is developed being mindful of ethical and cultural issues.

Current projects that are spearheading research in these areas include SOCRATES (SOcial Cognitive Robotics in The European Society) exploring the ethical aspects of Human-Robot Interaction in assistive contexts with vulnerable users, and the Assuring Autonomy Programme where the BRL’s role as an Assistive Robotics in Healthcare Demonstrator is to develop safety and regulatory standards of close-proximate human-robot interaction in an unstructured environment with people with a range of sensory, cognitive and physical impairments. The BRL is also working with Extracare Charitable Trust in a Knowledge Transfer Partnership which involves trialling and co-designing assistive technology with older adults and carers. This project will provide evidence of the impact of assistive technologies on supporting people as they age.

A robot as the interface to personalised health and well-being information and guidance has the potential to offer a more social and persuasive interaction experience.

The use of voice recognition and speech synthesis, gesture recognition and sensor information from ambient intelligent environments and smart garments, enable a robotic assistive system to offer more natural and accessible interactions.

Taking a Person-Centred Approach to Design

We strive to seek user input using a range of participatory design methods. Iterative prototyping and evaluation is central to our person-centred approach, ensuring that systems are useful, usable and accepted. Our person-centred approach involves:

  • Understanding people’s context of use and perspectives of assistive technologies
  • Investigating potential barriers and constraints and criteria for acceptability

User acceptance and ensuring effectiveness and efficiency of these technologies requires employing participatory design approaches that are inclusive, involving older people, their formal and informal carers, healthcare and social care and service providers, and clinicians. This can only be achieved by adopting a multidisciplinary approach in the conceptualisation, design and deployment of these technologies.

In addition to achieving technological feasibility and user acceptance, it is vital to ensure that these technologies are economical to manufacture and maintain. Legal and ethical aspects of the use of autonomous systems are also areas that need more deliberation.

Assistive Robots and the Internet of Things

A key aspect of the research into Assistive Robotics is developing contextual and social intelligence for the robot to interact appropriately in real-time, while building up a knowledge base of past interactions. The aim is to develop robust and intelligent assistive robots by incorporating both environmental and user characteristics, and behaviour as part of the overall control system architecture.

Connected assistive robots need access to information that is current and gives a dynamic world view of the user and their environment in order to provide information and support that is ‘intelligent’ and incorporates learning, otherwise the robot is functioning as a pre-programmed state machine.

Drawing on contextual information from environmental and activity sensors instrumented into a smart home, and information about the user’s current physical and emotional state, assistive robots can create value through provision of interventions that are more socially intelligent in regards to how, and what advice and support is provided.

To create a more holistic service that can prioritise events based on aspects of health and social circumstance, requires an adaptable intelligent learning system. Research is being conducted to develop intelligent control system architectures,  that can be extended over time, as new functionalities are defined, and people’s conditions, and hence needs, change. Our research strategy is to ensure that robotic devices can be appropriated as vital elements of a broader ecology of connected assisted living technologies.

For further information please contact:

Prof. Praminda Caleb-SollyBristol Robotics Laboratory, UWE

Twitter: @praminda | Telephone: 0117 3283178

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