Posted by on December 27, 2017 7:14 pm
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Categories: Science

(ANTIMEDIA) — Researchers at Brown’s Humanity-Centered Robotics Initiative have partnered with Hasbro to develop a robotic pet cat with AI capabilities. The Brown-Hasbro project will use a $1 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation to upgrade Hasbro’s “Joy for All” robotic cat. The short-term goal is to make life easier for seniors, although the field of “smart home assistance” is already in a race to develop cutting-edge applications for future AI robotics.

The “Joy For All” robo-cat purrs, meows, licks its paws, and rolls over for a belly rub, creating a reasonable facsimile of a real-life cat. However, this kitty doesn’t need a litter box and doesn’t need to be fed. All it needs is input data so it can remind the client about doctor’s appointments, medicines that need to be taken, calls that need to be made, and aid in retrieving lost objects, along with other simple tasks. Researchers say such an assistant could help seniors stay in their homes longer without the need of a nursing home.

Bertram Malle, a professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown, says the cat has a limited array of functions but is affordable.

“It’s not going to iron and wash dishes,” says Malle. “Nobody expects them to have a conversation. Nobody expects them to move around and fetch a newspaper. They’re really good at providing comfort.”

The project falls under a larger umbrella of new services called the Affordable Robotic Intelligence for Elderly Support, or ARIES. Researchers say the cat acts as a companion and could help seniors who suffer from loneliness and dementia.

“Mom has a tendency to forget things,” says Jeanne Elliott of her 93-year-old mother, Mary Derr, who has dementia and uses the new robotic cat. “We don’t have any appointments today, take your meds, be careful when you walk, things like that, be safe, reassuring things, to have that available during the day would be awesome.”

Researchers say a talking cat may actually disturb people. However, the tide may be turning on public perceptions of AI and smart assistants. New robotic prototypes are being integrated into elderly care to help seniors stay socially connected and relieve loneliness. The Stevie robot was engineered to display human compassion and helps people get out of bed.

The Nao robot, developed by ZoraBots, was developed to help with depression and anxiety in both seniors and sick children. Boo Boo, for example, uses facial recognition and scans QR codes to recognize people and react to them based on pre-set instructions.

“They actually feel like he’s a friend of their age, and that’s how they describe it,” says Phil Parker, a healthcare executive who travels to different hospitals with Boo Boo. “They’ll say, ‘Boo Boo knows what it feels like to get his blood drawn.’”

Pepper, a social companion robot used in retail environments, has helped boost sales in brick-and-mortar establishments.

Such projects will likely be greatly affected by new technologies and innovations in the field of robotic home assistants and smart systems. The voice-controlled Echo system, powered by Amazon Alexa, is now in 100 million homes. LG’s rival assistant, the Hub, is intended to be more interactive. Its animated face turns to talk to you. As LG describes it:

“The Hub Robot is designed to respond to consumers using body language, such as nodding its head when answering simple questions, and is always aware of activities inside the home, such as when family members leave, come home and go to bed. And because the Hub Robot is able to distinguish different family members’ faces with its camera, it can be programmed with a different greeting for each family member.”

We’re still in a very early stage of robotic companions. Until full-blown artificial intelligence has a voice/conversational user interface (UI), these systems will still function more as machine butlers. Their capabilities are growing by the year, though, and now include advanced home security. Next-generation home security systems feature robotic monitoring, facial recognition software, motion detectors, sensors, and security cameras with artificial intelligence.

Who knows, in the near future our robotic cats may not only talk — they may be preferable to human caregivers.

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