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University of Waterloo’s latest innovation: Companion robots for dementia patients

A user can be involved not just with a companion robot but with a personalised companion robot that can give them more independence

We all have the habit of losing objects like smartphones, reading glasses, electronic devices, purses etc even in our own homes. To address this, researchers now have come up with a novel robot programmed with artificial memory that can help find lost objects.

According to the team from Canada’s University of Waterloo, the robot will particularly help people with dementia.

“The long-term impact of this is really exciting,” said Dr. Ali Ayub, a postdoctoral researcher in electrical and computer engineering at the varsity, while interacting with the IANS.

“A user can be involved not just with a companion robot but a personalised companion robot that can give them more independence,” he added.

Talking about the motivation behind the innovation, Ali Ayub and his three colleagues were struck by the rapidly rising number of people coping with dementia, a condition that restricts brain function, causing confusion, memory loss and disability.

Many of these individuals repeatedly forget the location of everyday objects, which, apart from diminishing their quality of life, places additional burdens on their caregivers.

Engineers believed that a concept like a companion robot with an episodic memory of its own could be a game-changer in such situations.

As per reports, the University of Waterloo research team began with a Fetch mobile manipulator robot, which has a camera for perceiving the world around it.

Next, using an object-detection algorithm, these researchers programmed the robot to detect, track and keep a memory log of specific objects in its camera view through stored video.

With the robot capable of distinguishing one object from another, it can record the time and date objects enter or leave their view.

Researchers then developed a graphical interface to enable users to choose objects they want to be tracked and, after typing the objects’ names, search for them on a smartphone app/computer.

Once that happens, the robot can indicate when and where it last observed the specific object.

Tests have reportedly shown that the system is highly accurate. And while dementia patients might find the technology daunting, Ali Ayub reassured them by saying that the caregivers could use these companion robots easily.

Moving forward, Ali Ayub and his team will conduct user studies with people without disabilities, and then people with dementia.

The study was presented at the recent 2023 ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction.

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