Where’s My Robot?


Robots and Mental Health

Robotics in general terms needs to think past outdated and outmoded perceptions of what robots should look like… Mori warned us many years ago… our human-robot interactions need more imagination now… probably more than ever before.
Health and social robotics are very personal, ontological even… and personal robots require characterisation which enable and encourage anthropomorphic and zoomorphic tendencies present in most of us, whether we like it or not.
Surely a mental health related robot should have the ability to interact and interface on an individualised basis. If you don’t particularly like the look of an automaton (or a human for that matter) you are much less likely to interact with it/them affectively or over time. Autistic or otherwise!
We need to imagine more in terms of user-led human-robot interaction or interface. We appear to have all the robotic engineering we need but still haven’t been able to provide ‘new clothes for the ‘robotic emperor’


I appreciate that humanoid robots can at least attempt to replicate social procedures for imitation/replication etc and I’m certainly not criticising pioneering research into humanoid robots and autism… but I’m afraid Kaspar is not exactly my ideal robot for research into mental health related issues.

A personal robot from cradle to grave is ambitious to even suggest but probably the direction we need to be looking in first… and an iphone called Siri or a Nokia called Cortana are just not up to the task… and yet the potential is evident.


I would like a robot which can look after me when mental health becomes my personal issue… it should affect me in the ways a Cat or Dog does but also take care of the hoovering… also be my counsellor and also monitor my health… even when internal inspections may be required… a personal elderly friend spent 182 seperate days last year going to a hospital for ‘inspections’. I also want it to replace my home phone, laptop, TV, Router, Server, Cloud, Bose speaker, going to my local Doctor/hospital, Endoscopist etc etc… and it could pretend it cares for me too… just along as it doesn’t look like Frankenstein and behaves, when required like Phillip Pullman’s adaptation of Aristotle’s eudaimonia (Eros)… I’ll be happy… not much to ask is it… autistic or otherwise!


Robots in the classroom help autistic children learn!

Robots in the classroom help autistic children learn and could actually be better than their human counterparts… good grief whatever next?

Link to BBC report here

Thanks for the link Jack

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Dr Cynthia Breazeal & Professor Brian Scassellati on Social Robotics and exactly what Social Robots could achieve!

Dr Cynthia Breazeal from MIT is a specialist in social robotics and her 2008 presentation at the Singularity Summit below gives an informed and accessible summary of developments in sociable robotics.

Professor Brian Scassellati from Yale has recently gained funding for a 5 year  $10 million multi-university (U.S.) effort towards building socially assistive robots.

The last outstanding video shows just what can actually be achieved with a sociably haptic robot mock-up from Assistive Technology Partners at the University of Colorado. These haptic and socially equipped robotic companions could provide a plethora of meaningful interaction and assistance from childhood to old age?

Personal Modular Robot

The two cloth climbing examples below inspire the idea of a modular personal robot which can detach from its base and climb onto the lap or even perhaps the bed of its user. The utility of a robot with these abilities presents multiple scenarios and health monitoring/telepresence possibilities for disabled and elderly people.

The base robot could be equipped to go up and down stairs or any other domestic terrain carrying its detachable haptic brother wherever required, both equipped with health related sensors, cameras, projectors and telepresence developments or any other relevant health or care related technology.

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‘Robot and Frank’

Robot and Frank is a new film previewed at the Sundance Film Festival in January this year. It presents & investigates relationships between an elderly man with early stage Alzheimer’s, a health/social/care equipped humanoid robot and Frank’s family members – in short a future care network!

I get the feeling that this film may well be the first of many similar media inspired themes which will begin to change the way we see robotics and the spaces of care. It also makes you wonder who financed this film and where the money will come from for future films of this genre – its clearly a space where large robotic consortium’s can and will showcase their technology. For me this demonstrates the need for urgent and comprehensive research which takes into account the social, ethical & moral dilemmas ahead regarding the gathering commercialism of robotic care for the elderly.

Robotics related research & development is a commercially aimed endeavor and the advantages of changing popular perceptions of robotics in general is obvious and clearly underway. If I’m not mistaken the robot in this film is based on Honda’s ASIMO and Sony have recently been announced as the new distributors of this film.

Robot and Frank is due for release in the UK in March 2013!

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Eden Alternative – In the Community

After reading this article here I was interested to find out a little more about Professor Bill Thomas the founder of the Eden Alternative and its influence here in the UK. The Eden Alternative is a movement that is “dedicated to transforming care environments into habitats for human beings that promote quality of life for all involved”. The video below gives further insights into a philosophy that also extends out into the community to help elderly people living in their own homes.

I was however a little disappointed with some of the comments that Bill Thomas was quoted as saying regarding the Eden Alternative perspective in a recent interview about robots and elderly people;

“I can say with confidence that people in that reform movement really are not looking for a robot to solve our problems,”

I think I need to find out a bit more!

The idea of improving elderly people’s lives by addressing aspects of spatial, social & cultural well being is hardly new thinking and yet the Eden Alternative seems to epitomize and accordingly highlight the view that these essential moral, social & cultural responsibilities are not actually being maintained in contemporary elder care spaces – formal or informal?

However, as Sherry Turkle has maintained since the late 90’s the possibilities of emotional engagement with robots present a potential change in our social psychology and further to this perhaps, new distance oriented social networking arrangements. Perhaps Bill Thomas has not seen the robotic technology which is currently available and which may yet solve some of our problems – including the points highlighted in my previous post regarding care home abuse in the UK.

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Care Home Abuse in the UK

In recent years the exposure of failing state aided services for the elderly has gathered pace in the UK. The video below taken from BBC’s Panorama is the latest and probably the most disturbing, gratuitous & shocking example we have seen to date.


It’s worrying to note however that this abuse was only exposed due to a hidden camera placed in Maria’s care home room by her concerned daughter.

The central question here then could be – why can’t we have wi-fi camera’s monitoring any vulnerable person in any care setting. The cost is minimal and yet the comfort of being able to look in on your elderly Mum or Dad whenever possible would be invaluable. Notwithstanding the benefits for the care facility itself and associated health services. There are of course privacy issues here but hardly insurmountable with recent developments in surveillance software & multi-agency protocols.

Maria was left in her room alone for 13 hours, every day without even a television switched on for company? Imagine the considerable benefits of a small remotely accessible personal companion robot which could not only project Skype style communication but also family video’s, photo’s, TV or even Maria’s favourite music. If this telepresence equipped social robot is also tactile and huggable, the haptic comforts of having a ‘daemon’ like presence are very clear. The combination of all these technologies into a working socially equipped companion robot is available now! As the brilliant LuminAR project shows below new technology can be inexpensive and easily adapted for this type of social robot!

A conveniently removable & washable tactile coat could finish off this personal companion style robot.

It has become all too painfully clear that we cannot leave the care of our vulnerable family members & friends exclusively to the ill equipped & inadequately regulated hands of state aided and commercial care?

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OCULUS Laptop Robot

These are the kind of ideas which will make robots common place in our homes, simple and inexpensive – http://www.xaxxon.com/shop

This basic idea could be replicated with an iPhone as the ‘brains’ and Oculus could be replaced with more sophisticated, all terrain robot platforms which can climb or drive or even fly. For instance, the voice recognition of the iPhone could be utilised or even a small projector rather than a screen could be incorporated. Companion style robots could also be used with health and elder care modularity. Also interesting to know that OCULUS was funded through Kickstarter a community funding web site.

I get the feeling that anything is possible with the foundations of this idea. Just brilliant!

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Care-O-Bot 3

These robots appear to have been produced with research from Prof Kerstin Dautehahn and her team at The Adaptive Systems Research Group (University of Herts) in collaboration with Fraunhofer IPA. To their credit they seem to be heading towards a commercially available open source product rather than hiding behind the usual robotics idiom of  ‘new research platform – apply here’ – (on further reading this is debatable!). I kind of like Care-O-Bot 3’s ‘technomorphic’ shape, despite its size but they’re clearly avoiding the humanoid issues and interaction seems pretty good. Some of the elderly adults in the video also appeared to like it so it definitely looks good on more than a few critical areas of HRI and robotic innovation.

I particularly like these robots roles as care assistants rather than care worker replacements so somewhat ethically sound too. It is however, not particularly companionable and clearly not designed as such, which conveniently stimulates a discussion regarding the shaping of robots for differing roles. A socially equipped, anti-anthropomorphic service robot like Care-O-Bot 3 looks functional so it does functional tasks (but not upstairs?), a social companion robot like Paro elicits emotional/haptic responses creating emotional attachments. So are there domestic spaces for both, certainly looks like it, particularly if they can communicate simultaneously with us and each other?

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Fujitsu Teddy Bear Robot

At last an attempt to make a decent companion robot. Cute as he is though,  he doesn’t seem to actually do very much. He’s certainly not mobile and interaction is sadly lacking despite claims that he has the ability to recognise human emotion. I still get the feeling that these large corporations haven’t spent enough money on asking what people actually want from a robot, or why they might actually buy one, how they would use it etc. Ivory tower robotics rather than Interaction Design. I don’t understand why lessons haven’t been taken ‘on board’ from the slow computer uptake of seniors, if they didn’t make any sense to them or had any meaningful use, why would they bother tackling the steep technological learning curve?

The Paro model is particularly compelling but still suffers from the stigma of robot toy, as does this Bear but personal preferences combined with utility (for me) will become the so called ‘killer app’ in commercial robotics… the concept of the bespoke robot is getting nearer though.

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