Interview with Florenz Graf, M.Sc., research assistant for the Department of Robots and Assistive Systems at Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA
Many illnesses or old age require help with everyday tasks. Unfortunately, family members or caregivers aren’t always available to lend a hand. The MobiKa mobile service robot is designed to offer support, deliver motivation and improve the quality of life of those in need.
Florenz Graf, M.Sc., research assistant for the Department of Robots and Assistive Systems at Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA
In this MEDICA-tradefair.com interview, Florenz Graf describes the advantages MobiKa has over other interactive robots, explains the impact it can have in telemedicine and reveals why assistance systems will play an increasingly important role in the future.
The Fraunhofer IPA created MobiKa. What is this device about?
Florenz Graf: MobiKa is a mobile service robot for personal use at home or applications in care facilities. It is presently available as a near-production prototype. The robot includes a wheeled, mobile platform and a slender configuration with a height-adjustable tablet. MobiKa features navigation software that was developed here at the Fraunhofer IPA, allowing it to move fully autonomously to a desired destination point. Thanks to facial recognition software, the robot can identify and approach people, communicating with them via the tablet and synthesized voice.
It was important to us to make the robot affordable. Whenever possible, we used simple, cost-effective components. Unlike other interactive robots, we deliberately gave MobiKa a functional versus a humanoid design. In doing so, we want to emphasize its functional purpose as a user tool - comparable to existing domestic and household robots.
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MobiKa can be connected to external fall detection sensors, drive to the person in need and notify the emergency call via the screen.
Where is the robot being used and who benefits the most from it?
Graf: We believe the robot is best suited for older adults and individuals with mobility impairments, who can significantly benefit from its active approach and the everyday support it provides. The multimodal user interface allows users to interact with the outside world via telepresence or telemedicine technologies for example. These functions supply users with a safer home environment in case of emergencies. The mobile robot is also capable of actively addressing the user thanks to reminder, activation or entertainment functions. You could also link and tie in available, tablet-based assistance systems or smart home solutions in this setting.
The robot was developed as part of the "Emotion-sensitive Assistance Systems for Reactive Psychological Interaction with People" (EmAsIn) funded research project.
Graf: One of the project’s objectives was to team up with project partners and develop an assistance system for dementia patients in long-term care facilities. The assistance system is designed to give care residents personalized support, deliver motivation and improve their quality of life. It was implemented on MobiKa, tried out in comprehensive practical testing and continuously improved. We set up sensors in a meeting room at a Bruderhaus Diakonie facility and connected them to MobiKa. This enabled the robot to collect information about the people in the room, allowing it to roll up to specific people and display relevant content.
What sets it apart from other interactive robots?
Graf: The market offers several mobile telepresence robots, but they are often fully remote-controlled. Telepresence is typically their only feature and function. Meanwhile, MobiKa is far more versatile and can navigate fully autonomously. This wider range of operation sets MobiKa apart from other interactive robots that are already out on the market.
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The Tablet-PC is height adjustable. MobiKa supports telepresence, interaction or reminder functions.
The age of digitization is also changing the role telemedicine will play in future healthcare settings. What are the benefits of MobiKa in this scenario?
Graf: Thanks to its autonomous navigation system, MobiKa can be used for telemedicine purposes at home, as well as inpatient (elder care) facilities or hospitals. The robot can follow people, actively drive up to people or objects, etc. When the robot is used domestically, telemedicine might be able to prevent long trips to medical offices for routine questions or regular checkups. Care facilities benefit from telemedicine settings because there is no need to drive people with reduced mobility to a medical practice, if a robot-assisted (remote-controlled) examination is an option. What’s more, medical specialists who are not on-site at a hospital can dial in for consultation via telemedicine settings.
How important are assistance systems and robotics in future healthcare?
Graf: We believe that service robots and assistance systems will play a key role in specific healthcare settings – especially in light of changing demographics. To some extent, these systems have already assumed important tasks in hospital logistics or the operating room. Our research can be the foundation for new applications and opportunities. We can draw on extensive knowledge in this field, which we have accumulated over many years of research. Our developments factor in that caregivers expressly want automated assistance when it comes to household-related chores, logistics or time-consuming routine tasks. New technologies for domestic use are most notably designed to help elderly people to live more independently in their own homes.
The interview was conducted by Katja Laska and translated by Elena O'Meara. MEDICA-tradefair.com