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Meet Hobbit the Robot – with a penchant for picking things up, he has been designed with perhaps society’s largest group of technophobes in mind; the elderly.
Dr. Markus Vincze, who leads the project at the University of Vienna, explains the rationale for an elderly-friendly robot:
“Care organisations say that falling at home is one of the biggest problems when getting older. And for that we wanted to have a solution that is mobile, not attached to the person because then it is very often not accepted and not worn. It picks up everything from the floor. It makes sure that corridors are wide enough – you know maybe just pushing a chair to the side.”
In this sense, the Hobbit is an extension of the mutual care concept in automation: the building of a relationship between a human and a robot, whereby both take care of each other.
This all sounds perfectly harmonious but, given the target group in question, it is not a project without its obstacles, as Dr. Vincze himself admitted.
“One challenge is to to make the use so easy that an older person can naturally, intuitively use it. That’s one of the technical challenges. The second challenge is to bring all the pieces together into one system. You need the user interface which is now speech-audio, gestures and the touch screen – different modalities.”
Perhaps the ultimate challenge for the developers, however, will be how to make the early prototypes affordable for elderly people in their own home.