Friday, February 23, 2024

Engineers program robots to help people with dementia

The number of people coping with dementia – a condition that restricts brain function, causing confusion, memory loss, and disability – is rapidly increasing. Many of these individuals repeatedly forget the location of everyday objects, which diminishes their quality of life and places additional burdens on caregivers. Assistive robots are being increasingly adapted as a helper to persons with dementia.

Now, engineers at the University of Waterloo have discovered a new way to program robots to help people with dementia locate medicine, glasses, phones, and other objects they need but have lost. They succeeded in using artificial intelligence to create a new kind of artificial memory. The initial focus is on assisting a specific group of people, but the technology could someday be used by anyone who has searched high and low for something they’ve misplaced.

The research team began with a Fetch mobile manipulator robot with a camera for perceiving the world around it. Using an object-detection algorithm, they then programmed the robot to detect, track and keep a memory log of specific objects in its camera view through stored video. Thanks to the ability to distinguish one object from another, the robot can record the time and date objects enter or leave their view.

Next, the researchers developed a graphical interface to enable users to choose objects they want to be tracked and search for them on a smartphone app or computer after typing the objects’ names. Once that happens, the robot can indicate when and where it last observed the specific object.

Various tests have shown the system is highly accurate. While some individuals with dementia might find the technology daunting, researchers said caregivers could readily use it. In the future, researchers plan to conduct user studies with people without disabilities, then people with dementia.

“The long-term impact of this is really exciting,” said Dr. Ali Ayub, a post-doctoral fellow in electrical and computer engineering. “A user can be involved not just with a companion robot but a personalized companion robot that can give them more independence.”

Journal reference:

  1. Juhi Shah, Ali Ayub, Chrystopher L. Nehaniv, Kerstin Dautenhahn. Towards Developing an Episodic Memory Model for Companion Robots to Track Users’ Salient Objects. DOI: 10.1145/3568294.3580160