Will this robot be one of the first to work in assisted care homes?

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The care robot built by Prof Conor McGinn and his team at Trinity College Dublin. Image: Luke Maxwell

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Engineers at Trinity College Dublin have unveiled the first prototype for a robot designed to work in care homes.

When it comes to the discussion of whether robots are coming to take over the human workforce, one area where this seems to be genuinely moving forward at a rapid pace is in assisted care.

Now, a team of engineers from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) has unveiled its first prototype robot that could one day soon be travelling the halls of care homes, helping those in need.

Led by Prof Conor McGinn, the team designed the friendly-looking robot to have human-like features and perform both autonomous and human-controlled tasks, from keeping people company to reminding them to take medication.

It has two arms and a head that allows it to provide social feedback to people working in its vicinity. Sounds, lights, facial expressions and body language help it to communicate and respond appropriately to different situations.

Embedded within the robot are a myriad of cameras and sensors, allowing it to interact intelligently with its environment, while on-board processors and wireless connectivity allow it to become a part of the greater internet of things, enabling greater control of its data and movement.

“Nursing homes face significant care challenges, especially during the night when caregiver-to-resident ratios are low,” McGinn said.

“Our solution can perform several routine tasks, which will improve efficiency and substantially alleviate pressure on care staff during periods when the facility may be understaffed.”

Robot carer

The robot during a demonstration earlier this year. Image: TCD

Potentially on the market by 2021

To improve the robot’s focus and technology, the TCD team has begun working with Alone, the national organisation that supports older people to age at home, which has already worked with other technologies to support people in care.

“The robot is being developed to augment, not replace human care,” McGinn said.

“Through collaboration with organisations like Alone, we have been able to get a better understanding of the challenges people face as they get older, and get valuable user feedback on many aspects of the system.”

McGinn and his team aim to have the robot market-ready by 2021 and, over the next two years, will be piloting the technology in several care facilities in both Ireland and the US.

The first of these pilots is scheduled to take place in the summer of next year and has been ramped up due to receiving significant funding from Enterprise Ireland.

Colm Gorey is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com