Easing the caregiver’s burden with the Guardian care robot

The aim of the Guardian project is to develop a robot that supports seniors and caregivers. Vilans researcher and coordinator of the project Dr. Henk Herman Nap: ‘With the Guardian robot, the informal carer will know from a distance where his loved one has fallen, then he can direct the robot to that location and establish a speech-image connection via the robot.’

The international project, which will take 3 years, started recently with a kick-off meeting at Vilans where national and international cooperation partners were present. The reason behind the project is to alleviate the increasing pressure on healthcare professionals and caregivers; a development that is not only taking place in the Netherlands, but in other European countries as well.

Caring from a distance

Nap: ‘A big challenge is that it is increasingly difficult for informal carers to combine their work with the care tasks they already have; and the increasing shortage in healthcare staff will only add to their care burden. With Guardian, we therefore want to develop a robot with which the caregiver can also keep an eye on his/her client or loved one. Our focus is on caregivers who care for older people living at home.’
(Separate frame with picture) Engineer, Sara Casaccia from ‘Università Politechnica delle Marche’: ‘We are involved in the systematic architectural development of the robot. Among other things, we develop the app for the professional, which provides reminders and advice to the informal carer. The big advantage of Guardian? The user won’t need to use a particular device to make contact with the robot because several different devices are incorporated into the robot.’

Sensors for radar images

Nap: ‘The Guardian robot will be more widely deployable and a lot more advanced than existing models. For example, it contains sensors that, like radar, can create an accurate image of the house so that the robot knows where the person is and what is going on. The robot is also able to move throughout the house. Thanks to a 4G chip, the robot can be used as a video telephone. Furthermore, the eyes of the robot are display screens that can express emotion or show other information. You can also click on an extra computer device, which makes the robot more intelligent. And, if the robot’s battery is low, it will look for a charging point itself.’

Lorena Rossi, ‘Instituto Nazionale Riposo e Cura Anziani’: ‘We carry out the co-designing and the experimental activities with formal and informal caregivers, and older people themselves. I believe in this project, but it will be a challenge to balance the cost of the system with the ability and possibilities of the robot to interact with humans. The robot must be affordable in order to successfully implement this solution. For the next three years we will still have a lot of work to do.’

In co-creation

Nap: ‘We are using existing models that we will develop further. We do this in co-creation with the seniors and caregivers. In this way, we will find out which functionalities really have added value. For example, information about the well-being of the person, a health analysis and focus on fall prevention. We are also developing an app for the caregiver by which he/she can receive information cards with data from the sensors and measuring instruments.’

Professor Katarzyna Wac, University of Geneva: ‘I am leading a lab which aims to quantify data regarding quality of life of seniors and informal carers by measuring sleep, physical activities, and social interactions, for example. Our lab is developing a multipurpose sensor which makes a new way of quantification possible. In this way, we are improving Guardian. We really believe that this project can make a difference in supporting informal carers.’

Ethical issues and business modelling

Nap: ‘In addition to co-creation, we are also including business modelling and ethical issues from the start. For example, the commercial cooperation partners are already considering the costs and benefits of the project. They are also examining which country is the best option for producing the robot. Furthermore, we are already taking into account what the impact will be on privacy and transparency, and what possible, unforeseen side effects might occur.’

Vilans is project coordinator

‘Vilans Senior Researcher Dirk Lukkien focuses on the project, “Responsible Innovation” and ethics. Eindhoven University of Technology is examining the social interaction between seniors and the robot. For instance, the robot shouldn’t be too close because that is intimidating. The University of Geneva is involved because they are experts in measuring physiological components, happiness and quality of life. The company and JEF are very good at using the sensors in the robot and providing insight into radar images showing where a person is located. As Vilans, we are managing the project and are responsible for ethical management and knowledge dissemination. We are also supporting co-creation with the end users.’

About AAL

Guardian is an AAL project, a joint European financing program that comprises 13 countries including Spain, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Norway, Romania, Poland, and Slovenia. Together these countries are developing projects to respond in time to demographic developments, with ageing in particular. The aim is to develop and market innovative, ICT-based solutions for older people living at home and their environment.

Contact for this project:
Henk Herman