A robot that monitors the health of elderly people living alone and allows them to have face-to-face conversations with relatives or doctors is being tested in Rome by 94-year-old Grandma Lea. The makers of the GiraffPlus system say their robot can cut medical costs and let its elderly users maintain their independence. Matthew Stock reports.
94-year-old great-grandmother Lea Mina Ralli chats to the personal robot carer she's dubbed 'Mr Robin'. Her android assistant lets Grandma Lea, as she's affectionately known, connect remotely with relatives and carers face-to-face, using a system similar to Skype. Mr Robin uses a network of sensors and an internet connection to navigate around Grandma Lea's Rome apartment. It continually monitors her movement, and collects and analyses data, such as blood pressure and heart rate, to keep track of her health. She says it's already become a reassuring presence in her life. (SOUNDBITE) (Italian) LEA MINA RALLI, ALSO KNOWN AS GRANDMA LEA, SAYING: "He keeps me company and helps me feel calm because if there is a need they can check on me or request a response from me. I have my remote control and pressing the green button I can take a call from them and the robot becomes alive and the person appears on the turning screen.'' Mr Robin, and 14 identical robots, are being trialled by pensioners across three European countries. They're part of the GiraffPlus project, an EU-funded project to provide robots to help care for the elderly. The robots are programmed to charge with their screen facing the wall, to protect users' privacy. Unless an emergency is suspected, it must be 'called' by the user to be activated. Its makers hope the system will provide vital early detection of health issues through its data collection, while also providing reassurance for users, allowing them to speak to a doctor or relative at the push of a button. With the growing challenge of caring for an ageing population, Giraffplus technical manager Gabriella Cortellessa says an android army could cut medical costs and allow the elderly to remain in their own homes. (SOUNDBITE) (Italian) GIRAFFPLUS TECHNICAL MANAGER, GABRIELLA CORTELLESSA, FROM THE ITALIAN NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL (CNR), INSTITUTE FOR COGNITIVE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "The idea of the project is to collect sensitive data, personal data such as a person's blood pressure or the level of sugar in the blood but also details on what happens inside the house through the sensors. That data allows us to study the movements of the person in the house, to see what the elderly person does at home. These details are then interpreted through some artificial intelligence techniques which give us an indication of the life and the routines of the elderly person." Developers hope to start producing the robot commercially by the end of 2015. They hope the GiraffPlus system will not only increase the quality of life but also extend the period of independent living for the elderly.