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Robots help elders with medicines and contact with relatives

Researchers at the University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro (UTAD) announced today that they are developing a project that uses robots to support the elderly in activities such as taking medications or contacting family members.

“In this project, what we are studying is how older people can interact with robotic systems,” said Vítor Filipe, a professor at UTAD’s School of Science and Technology in Vila Real.

According to the researcher, in one of the strands of the project was developed “a robotic system that gives support in taking medication”.

“This system has in its database an indication of the time the elderly should take the medication and which medicine. Through their locomotion system, the robot moves and collects the medication due and searches the person indicated, considering that in the housing may be more than one person, “he explained.

This work gave rise to a master’s dissertation in computer engineering presented by student Leonel Agostinho Costa Crisóstomo, under the guidance of Professor Vítor Filipe.

In this study, we explored the “computer vision algorithms”.

“One of the most important sensors in the robot is precisely its cameras so that it can understand the surroundings. In this work algorithms were developed for the recognition of objects, that is, the packaging of medicines, and also the recognition of the elderly through facial analysis”, said the researcher.

The robot “Nao” used in the tests makes the facial identification of the elderly and the recognition of the medicines through computer vision algorithms that process the images acquired by the camera of the same robot.

For the demonstration of the concept, a test was done in a simple scenario that recreates the environment of a dwelling with elderly people who are assisted by the robot in the taking of medicines.

Vítor Filipe added that, within the framework of this project, UTAD is also installing “telepresence robots” in two homes in the city of Vila Real, which “have the particularity of facilitating communication between the relatives and the elderly who are in the institution “.

“The robot has a camera and the relatives of the elderly have an application, through which they can move the robot remotely to the person they want to talk to,” he said.

The robot establishes a video link between the actors.

This part of the project is being developed in a real environment and the information collected will be used to understand the acceptance of these new technologies by the elderly and their families.

UTAD’s research takes into account a reality that is increasingly worrying modern societies, where projections indicate that in the year 2060 there will be three elderly people for only one young person, in an average life expectancy of 81 years.

In this context, the researchers acknowledge, the exponential growth of the elderly population and the decline of young active population in developed countries is leading to the lack of skilled labor to provide the necessary care to the elderly.

“In the future, these systems can provide some support to the elderly populations,” said Vítor Filipe.

This work is being developed by a team that brings together researchers from the School of Science and Technology and the UTAD School of Health.

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