Watson-powered robot aims to help elderly and caregivers

Jan. 6, 2017

IBM has created the Multi-Purpose Eldercare Robot Assistant (IBM MERA) in collaboration with Rice University, designed to help assist the elderly and their caregivers and investigate how cognitive computing can transform healthcare. This Watson-enabled application is a first-of-its-kind venture and a prescient endeavor given that, according to the United Nations, the number of people age 60 years or older is projected to grow by 56% worldwide by 2030.

IBM created the prototype robot with students and faculty from Rice University’s departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Psychology. The robot is being hosted inside the IBM “Aging in Place” research environment in its ThinkLab in Austin, Texas. The space was designed to mimic the types of interactions elders may have in their homes.

By leveraging IBM MERA, the Internet of Things, and other cognitive-powered technologies, IBM can study how data from atmospheric, motion and falling, and audio and olfactory sensors could be used by caregivers to improve healthcare and wellness as physical or environmental conditions change.

George Chen, a Rice University Ph.D. student, has his heart and respiratory rates measured by a prototype IBM Multi-Purpose Eldercare Robot Assistant (IBM MERA), as IBM Research Staff Member Jinho Lee, left, observes during a demonstration at the IBM “Aging in Place” research environment in Austin, Texas.
Photo by Jack Plunkett/Feature Photo Service for IBM

The robot 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 results of an accelerometer.

Running on the IBM Cloud and a Softbank Pepper robot interface, 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.

Source: IBM