Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

IBM develops robot to care for elderly

Steve Rogerson
December 20, 2016



IBM Research has created a prototype multi-purpose eldercare robot assistant in collaboration with Texas-based Rice University.
 
Called Mera, it is a Watson-enabled application designed to help assist the elderly and their caregivers. IBM also plans to work with Sole Cooperativa, an independent healthcare provider in Italy, to instrument senior housing with sensors to monitor day-to-day activities of its residents.
 
According to the United Nations, the number of people aged 60 years or older is projected to grow by 56 per cent worldwide by 2030. To help improve eldercare resulting from this rapidly growing demographic, IBM has opened an Aging in Place environment in its ThinkLab in Austin designed to mimic the types of interactions elders may have in their homes.
 
By leveraging Mera, the IoT and other cognitive-powered technologies, IBM can study how data from atmospheric, motion and falling, audio and olfactory sensors could be used by the ecosystem of caregivers to improve healthcare and wellness as physical or environmental conditions change.
 
"Now is the time to invest in, care for, protect and empower our aging population so they can live more independent lives," said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president at IBM Research. "Our new research on embodied cognition, which can combine real-time data generated by sensors with cognitive computing, will explore how to provide clinicians and caregivers with insights that could help them make better care decisions for their patients."
 
IBM created the prototype robot with students and faculty from Rice University's departments of electrical and computer engineering and psychology, and it is being hosted inside the IBM Aging in Place research environment. Mera will be used to help study innovative ways of measuring an individual's vital signs, such as heart rate, heart rate variability and respiratory rate; answer basic health-related questions; and determine if an individual has fallen by reading the results of an accelerometer.
 
Running on the IBM Cloud and a Softbank Pepper robot interface, Mera uses Watson technologies and CameraVitals, a technology designed at Rice University that calculates vital signs by recording video of a person's face. These technologies allow Mera to obtain fast, non-invasive readings on a patient's heart and breathing measurements that can be done multiple times per day. Combined with Watson speech-to-text and text-to-speech APIs, the camera can also view if a fall has occurred and provide information for caregivers.
 
The robot is also designed to interact with individuals using Watson speech-to-text, text-to-speech and natural language classifier APIs so researchers can study how they could receive answers to health-related questions, for example "What are the symptoms of anxiety?" or "What is my heart rate?"
 
"The multi-purpose eldercare robot assistant represents the powerful impact that results when leaders in academia and private industry bring their best to bear on pressing societal issues," said Rice provost Marie Lynn Miranda. "We are delighted to work with IBM on this critical research project, which provides an opportunity for our students and faculty to collaborate with IBM's best age and ability researchers at the IBM Research Lab in Austin."
 
In Italy, Sole Cooperativa is planning to work with IBM to create smart spaces for its senior residents that will leverage the IoT and IBM cognitive computing to identify changes in physical conditions or anomalies in environmental readings, and is designed to inform caregivers of changing situations.
 
For example, by monitoring atmospheric readings, such as carbon-dioxide and carbon-monoxide levels, Sole will use IBM technology to determine the room someone is in and how long they remained, and then leverage cognitive systems to help build a contextual understanding of a normal day, for example what time do they get up and go to bed, or how many meals do they eat and at what time. By integrating data from other sources, including traditional databases and streaming sensor data, Sole will be equipped with holistic views of the residents.
 
"This new system will be designed to help our residents live safely and independently for as long as possible," said Roberta Massi, president of Sole Cooperativa. "By better understanding a person's routines and surroundings, we can identify potential risks, personalise care and deliver precise recommendations that improve their quality of life. We can also more effectively improve our business operations by ensuring our staff is more focused on helping residents and patients as potential medical issues arise."
 
IBM is collaborating with wellness real estate and technology firm Delos to adopt cloud and cognitive technologies to speed the discovery of insights in health and wellness and their connections to the design of indoor spaces.
 
Designed to be a multi-year collaboration, Delos will leverage Watson and data analytics services through Bluemix, IBM's cloud platform, to create cognitive applications that probe the connections between human health and indoor environments.