Ninety-four-year old Lea is able to stay home thanks to the care she receives from a robot. Often described as a kind of Skype on wheels, it’s part of a European project entitled Giraffplus, which connects elderly people with the world outside. These remote-controlled machines are being tested as substitutes for round-the-clock carers to face the needs of a rapidly ageing society.
“I know that if something happens to me, say, I fall or I faint, I can send an SOS by remote control. I press a green button and the video turns on. A doctor or a therapist appears and asks me how I’m doing. I can see them and they can see me and they can treat me from home,” says Lea.
The “Giraff” robot, which lends its name to the project, can be tailored to each patient’s needs. It uses a Skype-like interface to allow relatives or caregivers to pay the elderly person virtual visits in their home.
“The idea is to incorporate sensors that can help monitor different kinds of situations, to help prevent dangerous scenarios inside a home like gas or water leaks for example, but also to monitor any symptoms of illness in the patient,” says Giraffplus technical manager, Gabriella Cortellessa.
Lea, who has been using the robot for half a year, often writes about it on her blog, and has even given it a nickname – ‘Mr Robin’. It may not be everyone’s idea of the ideal companion, but for many elderly people such a device could give them the chance to stay in their own homes rather than be forced to move into a nursing home.
Giraffplus is expected to be in commercial production by the end of 2015.