Future of eldercare? A Watson-powered robot that helps Mom and Pop age in place

Wed, 2017-02-15 11:30 -- Compassionate C...

If you’re old enough to remember the 1960s-era television show The Jetsons, you’re also old enough to have elderly parents and old enough to be thinking about growing old yourself. All of which leads me to what may seem like a scene out of The Jetsons – the IBM Multi-Purpose Eldercare Robot Assistant (IBM MERA), created in collaboration with students and faculty at Rice University. I think you’ll agree (no matter how old you are) that it’s quite fascinating. – Philip Bane


The number of people aged 60 years or older is projected to grow by 56% worldwide by 2030, according to the United Nations. To help improve eldercare resulting from this rapidly growing demographic, IBM Research has opened a new “Aging in Place” environment in its ThinkLab in Austin designed to mimic the types of interactions elders may have in their homes. 

“Now is the time to invest in, care for, protect, and empower our aging population so they can live more independent lives,” said Arvind Krishna, Senior Vice President, IBM Research. “Our new research on ‘embodied cognition,’ which can combine real-time data generated by sensors with cognitive computing, will explore how to provide clinicians and caregivers with insights that could help them make better care decisions for their patients.”

Watson at work
IBM MERA is a first-of-a-kind Watson-enabled application designed to help assist the elderly and their caregivers.

IBM created the prototype robot with students and faculty from Rice University’s departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Psychology. It is being hosted inside the IBM “Aging in Place” research environment where it will be used to help study innovative ways of measuring an individual’s vital signs, such as heart rate, heart rate variability and respiratory rate; answer basic health-related questions; and determine if an individual has fallen by reading the results of an accelerometer.

IBM MERA uses IBM Watson technologies and CameraVitals, a technology designed at Rice University that calculates vital signs by recording video of a person’s face. These technologies allow IBM MERA to obtain fast, noninvasive readings on a patient’s heart and breathing measurements that can be done multiple times per day. Combined with IBM Watson Speech to Text and Text to Speech APIs, the camera can also view if a fall has occurred and provide information for caregivers.

Learn more in this short video.

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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