In 2050, the world population over the age of 60 will reach 2 billion people, of which 434 million will be over the age of 80, according to the World Health Organization. This is largely due to the increase in life expectancy from 72 to 77 years old.
This ageing population often experiences stress factors such as loss or decrease in mobility, chronic pain, and other health problems such as dementia and depression. Older people are more likely to experience grief over the death of friends and family and see their socioeconomic status decrease after retirement. All of these factors can lead to isolation, loneliness, or psychological distress.
Aimed at resolving this situation, robotics engineer and doctor Conor McGinn is developing technologies to improve the quality of care these people receive. "Seventy percent of older adults need some form of long-term care during their lifetime, so it is estimated that five million more caregivers will be needed," says McGinn.
One of his technologies is Stevie, an anthropomorphic robot that, using a user-centred approach, integrated sensors, and artificial intelligence algorithms, engages in conversations with people and moves freely through a space such as a senior care facility. Thanks to this, the robot can perform a wide variety of tasks including providing information, delivering food and medicine, telling stories, reading the news, and even entertaining with board games. It also allows for video calls with family and friends, encourages light exercise, and reduces the barrier of using technology, which contributes to the social, emotional, intellectual, and physical well-being of the older person. Stevie can also be operated remotely, by qualified personnel, from a computer or smartphone, thus enabling a rapid human response in the event of an accident or emergency.
With this project, McGinn has become one of the winners of Innovators Under 35 Europe from MIT Technology Review. The young researcher is also founder and co-director of the Robotics and Innovation Laboratory at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. Thanks to an agreement between this institution and the Knollwood Centre for the elderly in Washington DC, USA, Stevie has been tested for six weeks. In this test, its creators were able to know the needs of older adults in depth so when they returned to the laboratory, they could develop and improve the functionalities of the robot.
In the words of Kristina Tsvetanova, CEO and Co-Founder of BLITAB and part of the Innovators Under 35 Europe 2019 jury, "McGinn's work is exceptional based on his achievements and his willingness to use robotics to improve the lives of human beings."
By Wendy Barnet and Elena Zafra
Translation: Brian Bostwick