The University Politecnica delle Marche (UNIVPM) in Italy is involved in, among others, the technological development of social robot Guardian. Researcher Sara Casaccia: ‘In providing care services, a social robot like Guardian can limit the trips to hospital and the GP for older persons and their informal carers. This is beneficial in times of a pandemic’.
Casaccia: ‘Guardian can be the eyes and ears of the older person in providing information about him to carers. The aim of UNIVPM is to develop different skills and functionalities of the robot. We are working on sensors “on board” or integrated into the robot. So that the robot can identify where the older person is in the room and interact with the user. This means less worrying for the informal caregiver who will receive information, for instance, about the daily activities of the older person in his home environment.’
Algorithms to predict human behaviour
For six years, Sara Casaccia has also conducted research on predicting human behaviour. Sara: ‘After my PhD student years I was particularly involved in this topic. It is possible to predict human behaviour by monitoring a user at home through wearables or sensors in the home. This data can be processed by using Artificial Intelligence algorithms.’
Cassaccia: ‘With supervised algorithms, the older person or the informal carer can fill in a survey in order to learn the algorithm when, for example, the older person is in a good mood. This survey is only temporarily needed. After that new data is fed automatically to these algorithms via the robot and sensors in the house, by which they develop intelligence over time.’
The algorithm becomes smarter
Casaccia: ‘For example, when the older person feels good, a lot of activities and social activity can be measured at home. But when the person is feeling bad, it could be that he stays in bed all day, doesn’t meet anyone and that the robot will register less door activity. When you measure all the variations for a longer period of time, the algorithm can distinguish what the effect is on the health and the behaviour of the older person. For example, during a pandemic period, the older person could change his behaviour because of the restrictions. The algorithm is then able to take this pandemic factor into account.’
An integrated approach
‘As UNIVPM, we are developing and applying innovative measurement methods for three areas,’ says Professor Gian Marco Revel. He is the Rector Delegate of European research and coordinates the UNIVPM team working on Guardian. ‘These areas are traditional industrial applications, applications for cities and buildings and health applications. Our aim is to combine the area of buildings with the area of health. Because cities and buildings affect the health of persons and this is particularly important in regard to older persons. Older people spend a lot of time at home, and a good relationship with their environment is essential for their well-being.’
A built environment that meets the needs of older people
Revel is engaged in the ‘European Construction, built environment and energy efficient building Technology Platform’ (ECTP). The ECTP aims to drive innovation through research in order to create a better future for the Built Environment industry in Europe. Revel: ‘Among others, we advocate an active ageing and design committee in order to define a built environment that will adapt to older people. We need to take their needs into account. It is important that buildings, among others, have good physical accessibility and that the neighbourhood offers services to people and has a good digital infrastructure. In many European countries, including Italy, there is still poor digital infrastructure in too many areas. This has to change in order to be able to deploy a social robot as Guardian.
Certification for age-friendly environments
Revel: ‘We are also taking part in a European initiative which is, among others, defining a new certification scheme for age-friendly environments. It is called Homes4Life. This certification scheme will be ready in the beginning of next year. Important, because the built environment has to be ready for ageing Europe.’