There’s a cute movie about robots you may not have seen: Robot and Frank is about a (semi) retired jewel thief suffering from mild dementia and the robot companion/helper forced on him by his son. Set in the not-too-distant future, the movie features a number of technologies that are currently in the development phase.
I thought of the film when I saw this announcement from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) about the five-year, $125,000 award the school received from the National Science Foundation to develop personal assistant robots for the elderly and disabled. In addition to the basics of designing these types of robots, the researchers also plan to find ways to introduce the robots “in a manner that avoids stigmatization or stereotyping of or discrimination against the elderly.” Members of school’s robotics engineering and psychology programs will lead the project.
The researchers will advise 10 undergraduate capstone projects to design and validate robotic technologies for assisting the elderly, and people with a variety of disabilities. The robots planned for the project could help with shopping or carrying objects. The students will also design companion robots.
“The novel part about this grant is that these robots don’t currently exist,” said Taşkin Padir, assistant professor of robotics engineering at WPI. “The design is going to be very user-centered.”
The award includes a collaboration with the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Center for Integrated Primary Care.
A similar effort is underway at RoboCom, a research program in Europe investigating robotics and “sustainable welfare.”