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EU consortium develops robot companion

A consortium of European researchers has developed a customizable robot companion for people with memory or mobility problems.
The robot, a mobile wheeled semi-humanoid figure equipped with cameras, sensors, audio and a touch screen interface, can remind users to take their medicine, suggest they have their favorite drink or prompt them to go for a walk or visit friends if they haven’t been out for a while, and alert emergency services if something is amiss.
Developed over 33 months by research institutes, universities and technology companies in seven countries — the United Kingdom, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland —  the companion robot is just one of several results of an EU-funded project, An integrated intelligent home environment for the provision of health, nutrition and well-being services to older adults (MOBISERV), which received EUR 2.75 million in research funding from the European Commission.
‘This has been a very broad project, we’ve worked not only on the robot but also integrating it with a smart-home system and with smart clothes,” said Herjan van den Heuvel of Smart Homes, the Dutch Expertise Centre on Home Automation and Smart Living, which oversaw the robot’s development.
The way the robot behaves, what it says, how it says it, even the tone of voice can be customized for each person. In the future, the researchers also envision being able to customize the design and color of the robot.
In tests, “older people were extremely positive about the robot,” says Van den Heuvel. “They can see the benefits of the cognitive support it provides and also, if they live alone, they like the idea of having something they can interact with. For some, it’s almost like a pet with its own personality.”
The prototype MOBISERV robots currently cost around EUR 10,000 to build, but that price should fall as technology advances, and through economies of scale if they are produced in large numbers. Van den Heuvel envisions a robot companion costing around EUR 5000 within a couple of years.
The MOBISERV partners are currently seeking funding for follow up projects or a joint spinoff to further enhance and perfect their design, as well as conduct user trials on a larger scale.
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