Remember, as a child, watching futuristic cartoons where every family had a robot zipping around the house acting as a maid, butler and/or baby sitter? Well, apparently the future is NOW and the robots have arrived … just in time for the baby boomers to witness those fantasies become reality.
Over the next 30 years, close to 78 million baby boomers will be retiring, and this will obviously severely stress caregivers, the medical system, and many community services. Our new family friend, uBOT-5 as the robot is called, will now allow elders to live much more independently.
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst have developed a robotic assistant that fits right into the family while performing a number of very critical tasks, such as:
- dialing 911 in case of emergencies
- reminding clients to take their medication
- helping with grocery shopping
- allowing a client to talk to loved ones and health care providers
- allowing concerned family members to access the robot from any Internet connection to visit their elderly parents
- allowing family members to navigate the robot around the home in search of Mom and Dad in the event they may not have heard the phone ring or may be in need of assistance
- allowing the family doctor to perform virtual house calls direct from his/her office or hospital
The design of this particular robot was actually inspired by the human anatomy:
- An array of sensors acts as the robots eyes and ears, allowing it to recognize human activities, such as walking or sitting.
- It can also recognize an abnormal visual event, such as a fall, and notify a remote medical caregiver.
- Through an interface, the remote service provider may ask the client to speak, smile or raise both arms, movements that the robot can demonstrate. If the person is unresponsive, the robot can call 911, alert family and apply a digital stethoscope to a patient, conveying information to an emergency medical technician who is en route.
- The system also tracks what isn’t human. If a delivery person leaves a package in a hallway, the sensor array is trained to notice when a path is blocked, and the robot can move the obstruction out of the way.
- It can also raise its outstretched arms, carry a load of about 2.2 pounds and has the potential to perform household tasks that require a fair amount of dexterity, including cleaning and grocery shopping.
- The uBot-5’s arm motors are similar to the muscles and joints in our own arms, and it can push itself up to a vertical position if it falls over.
- It has a “spinal cord” and the equivalent of an inner ear to keep it balanced on its Segway-like wheels.
This type of robot isn’t exactly a new concept but, for the first time, they are both safe enough and now inexpensive enough to add tremendous value in the everyday home environment.
Creating this single masterpiece in a lab setting would cost about $65,000. However, manufacturers claim they can mass-produce these mechanisms for a couple of thousand dollars. That may still sound expensive to some until you realize the fact that a part-time, human in-home caregiver can cost more than $1,500 PER WEEK. Two weeks of that kind of care would buy you your own personal uBOT-5!
That’s certainly a fair price to allow Grandma to take the robot’s hand, lead it out into the garden and have a virtual visit with a grandchild who is living on the opposite coast. Our new found companion can now eliminate the isolation which can easily lead to depression in the elderly.