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3 Ways Collaborative Robots Help People with Needs

From vacuum cleaners using the latest sensor technology to smart appliances, consumers are impacting the development of automation. Tools and gadgets aren’t the only way robotics is found in the home. People who are impaired and have limited mobility can also get help from automated solutions. It’s another technological frontier with crossover benefits for industry.

Assisting the Elderly

Baby Boomers are turning older in large numbers. In the next five years, expect to see a 70% jump in people age 65 and older. The caregiving profession is going to be impacted as families search out quality care that’s also affordable for their senior loved ones.

Daily tasks like getting out of bed, taking a shower, and preparing meals can become challenging. A personal robot assistant could help. Dr. Henrik Christiensen at the University of California, San Diego, is willing to take on the challenge of creating solutions for this pressing need.

In an article available through the Robotic Industries Association, The Consumerization of Robots – Implications for You, Me, and Industry, Dr. Christiansen wants to bring different disciplines together to create people-oriented solutions.

“Given that we have a strong engineering department and a strong [cognitive science department], if I put them in the same room, we can do things that you couldn’t do otherwise.”

San Diego has one of the more extensive health care systems in the world so it will be a good testing ground for the on-going development of assistive technology.

Robots can aid in keeping seniors active. At the University of Toronto, the Autonomous Systems and Biomechatronics Lab is developing intelligent assistive robots to engage individuals in social human-robot interactions (HRI). The technology can help the elderly while relieving the burdens of human caregivers.

Assisting Children

Robotics camps are active across the nation as students of all grades learn to build and program robots. But there’s another way robots and children are relating and it isn’t about training a future workforce. Instead, the focus is on emotional health and well-being using socially assistive robots.

Think of a robot like a coach, guiding a student toward certain behavioral goals. A write-up on Socially Assistive Robots through a Yale University website, Robots Helping Kids, describes the many different ways children can be helped.

Students can be encouraged to exercise, learn and discover social cues to help them get along with others. Imagine human resource departments tapping into the technology so employees can better handle challenges on the job and in their personal lives.

Assisting the Visually Impaired

Collaborative robots have made their way onto the factory floor, working alongside human counterparts. Assistive robots are another form of collaborative robots, and work is being done to help the blind achieve mobility through a project, Assistive Robots for Blind Travelers involving staff and students at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

About 39 million people around the world are blind while another 285 million people are visually impaired.

Travel doesn’t only mean stepping on to an airplane or driving from one city to another. It includes navigating cities. As municipalities evolve and incorporate smart technology, assistive robots can help the visually impaired.

The project uses the robot Baxter, originally introduced to the industry by manufacturer Rethink Robotics as a “safe, flexible, affordable alternative to fixed automation.”

In the factory, Baxter handles tasks like machine loading, packaging, and material handling. For social needs, the robot’s interface makes it attractive for working with the visually impaired.

Another challenge in creating robots for the elderly, children, and the visually impaired is the investment cost. For-profit companies can buy technology to boost profits.

Future funding strategies will be important to sustain the use of technology for social needs. Both the assistive robots for children and blind travelers project are being funded by the National Science Foundation, that calls assistive technologies “an extension of ourselves and our capabilities.”

Automation has many crossover solutions. Interfaces and end effectors used to help vulnerable people in the home can make technology at work even more user friendly. Stay on top of automation’s many benefits with resources through A3automate.org.