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Pick-up robot that helps elderly stand after a fall in works

What if a robot could be programmed to help frail and elderly people who fall in their home back onto their feet?

University of South Australia PhD candidate Kalana Ishara Withanage is leading a project that aims to make it a reality.

Withanage and colleagues are working on algorithms that will allow robots to autonomously move to a position with an unobstructed view of an elderly person who has fallen and assist them to get back up safely.

The team said a potential avenue for fall alerts may be through sensors in the home, such as surveillance cameras and microphones.

“The robot could then find the fallen person and analyse their situation though remote heart rate monitoring and by asking questions, the answers to which will be processed by voice recognition,” Withanage said. “If emergency care is not required, the robot could provide audio-visual prompts to guide the person to stand up safely.”

The algorithm would allow the robot to track an individual’s progress as they stand up and, using its onboard cameras, provide corrective guidance if the person tries to undertake an unsafe movement.

“Every year, elderly falls account for 80,000 injuries, 1000 fatalities and $800 million in hospital care,” Withanage said. “Sixty per cent of injuries and deaths are the result of repeated falls, which are preventable if the person had gotten up properly in the first instance.

“Older people living alone cannot have a physiotherapist by their side at all times so if they happen to fall, a robot guiding them to get up safely could be a life saver.”

The team said the research sets itself apart from previous studies into technological interventions through the algorithm that will allow the robot to track a person’s movements and recognise activities in fall recovery such as lying down, rolling to the side and crawling.

“Our research hopes to give the next generation of robots the eyes and judgment of a physiotherapist or physical trainer,” Withanage says. “Our ultimate goal is to develop a robot that really can provide physical assistance to a fallen person and the way we are heading, that could be a reality in the not-so-distant future.”

The research is expected to be submitted in February 2018.

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One comment

  1. Does the robot provide emotional support and therapeutic touch too? Just because you can plug it in, doesn’t mean it’s the solution.