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Robotics and care event showcases ‘world-first’ assistive technologies

Robotics and Care

A robotics and social care event has brought together innovators and end-users in a move aimed to provide a step forward in the assisted living technology market.

Highlights of the Robotics and Care Mashup event, which took place last week, included connecting multiple home appliances with a single in-ear switch, and new concepts for using technology to help support social isolation and existing care packages. 

The event was organised by The National Robotarium, based at Heriot-Watt University, in partnership with Product Forge, the Usher Institute and Design Informatics at the University of Edinburgh and Scottish Health Innovations Ltd (SHIL).   

Attended by health and care professionals, academics and assistive technology providers, it aimed to prototype new solutions and accelerate technical designs to tackle multiple care and assisted living challenges. 

Dr Mauro Dragone, an assistant professor and director of the Robotic Assisted Living Testbed (RALT) at the National Robotarium, based at Heriot-Watt University, co-organised the event.

He said: “The National Robotarium’s mission is to translate cutting-edge research into technologies to create disruptive innovation in an expanding global market, delivering sustainable economic benefit to Edinburgh, the UK and beyond. 

“Our Robotics and Care Mashup exemplifies the concept of a user-centred living lab, integrating concurrent research and innovation processes within a public-private-people partnership. We involved a range of stakeholders in the event to define research priorities and questions for health and social care technology and to accelerate innovation in the sector.”

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The event featured the world’s first example of an open assisted living laboratory. 

Dragone explained: “Our assisted living lab is set up to operate like a real flat with a kitchen, living room, bathroom and bedroom. Throughout the home, we have connected sensors, domestic robots and other assisted living technology to help care practitioners, designers and end users to test the usefulness of assisted living technologies. Through our Open Ambient Assisted Living (OpenAAL) project, we have recently equipped our laboratory to offer real-time interaction with its sensing, automation and robotic equipment, over the Internet.  

“This provides a platform that researchers, technology and industry users can use to co-create technology, where time and distance is no longer a barrier – any time, any place access. The aim is to catalyze and support collaborations to more quickly develop innovative concepts of assistive living technology to be considered for mass-market roll-out and rapid uptake.” 

A line up of fourteen international speakers inspired participants throughout the week with talks providing multiple perspectives on key aspects for assistive technology, from social science and cybersecurity to IoT and ethics for healthcare and social robotics. 

Successes from the week’s event included demonstrating how the ‘Earswitch’ can be used to operate multiple devices using an ear muscle alone.

The ‘Earswitch’ was created by primary care practitioner, Dr Nick Gompertz, from Somerset and is supported by funding from NIHR. Dr Gompertz previously proved voluntary movements of the eardrum could be filmed and then used to trigger a virtual keyboard for MND and complex stroke sufferers.  

Dr Gompertz worked with Thomas Gillett, a PhD student at Heriot-Watt University, to improve the accuracy of the switch and to connect it to existing assistive devices and automation frameworks.

Explaining his involvement in the event, Dr Gompertz, inventor of the Earswitch, said: “The Mashup has helped to accelerate and widen the applications of the Earswitch prototype. During the event, we’ve used the Earswitch to control disability software which then can connect to devices throughout the National Robotarium’s assisted living lab and beyond. This allows a user to control multiple appliances in a home setting with their ear muscle alone. 

“Everyone with assisted living needs faces a unique set of challenges so they can end up with multiple devices to support their needs. The updated Earswitch prototype can now control a single access point from which to surf the internet, control wheelchairs, operate home appliances and even play computer games. ” 

Tags : assistive technologyNational Robotariumrobotics
Sarah Clarke

The author Sarah Clarke

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