A few days ago a bunch of photographers, cameramen and some people who were simply curious (including myself) overheard a strange dialogue:
– Excuse me, have you fallen down?
– I could not understand you. Excuse me, have you fallen down?
– Do you need help?
– The Health Call Center has been notified. Wait a moment, someone will be there shortly.
If you haven’t guessed yet, then one of the participants in this strange conversation was a robot. In fact, this is what makes the whole project unique and innovative: Namely, that built-in intelligence lets the robot engage in dialogue.
A test person, with sensors attached to his chest, threw himself on the floor to simulate falling down (in a pretty convincing way – he had probably rehearsed it).
In the beginning, nothing seemed to happen, but after the “patient” almost lost his patience, the robot finally realized that something was going on and began to approach the poor guy.
Falling down is one of 30 alerts that the robot can currently recognize and one of the easiest to simulate. “Of course, we cannot stop his [the test person’s] heart,” admitted the leader of the robot-building project, Satish Srirama, a senior research fellow at the UT Institute of Computer Science. Other vital signs to be monitored are, among others, an abnormal pulse rate and high fever.
Why is this kind of conversation needed at all? The idea is that alarms should be verified before the robot transmits them to the emergency call center. Minimizing false alarms saves significant resources.
(If you’re still wondering what happens if the person isn’t able to respond, then silence also comprises a valid answer. And if it just crossed your mind that what fell down might have been a piece of furniture, then Mr. Srirama calmed our fears by explaining that this robot can also “see” through a built-in camera equipped with face-recognition software.)
The robot conveniently operates on a 30-50 m distance through a wireless connection; the sensors measuring the patient’s condition send the info to the base station via a Bluetooth connection.
ROBO M.D. is still a prototype and has to pass significant tests before it goes into production phase. The current system costs around 20,000 euros; however, the project’s long-term goal is to reduce the cost fourfold to just 5,000.
The robot can walk, but it was sitting on a podium during the test. The reason is pretty simple: While seated on a wheeled podium, it can move around faster.
And last, but not least: Why is ROBO M.D. human-like?
“We have tried to ask the same question from an elderly lady,” explains Satish Srirama. “Let’s say she is sleeping and a robot cat, having sensed something unusual, approaches her and asks: “Is your heart beating properly?” The old lady confessed she would beat the cat with a stick – we wanted to avoid such situations :)”
See for yourself:
The ROBO M.D. home-care robot is a result of collaborative work between five partners. Besides a group of University of Tartu researchers who are working on the robot’s intelligence, partners from Austria, Italy, Netherlands and Czech Republic are involved.