Mobiserv project starts real user trials in the UK and The Netherlands

In the past 3 years, a European team of universities, research institutes, commercial companies and care organisations have been working on a new type of social carer: a robot companion for older adults. Integrated together with smart garments and vision systems, this social robot reminds them about eating, drinking and medicines, offers structure throughout the day, and helps people to stay active by suggesting a variety of activities. The main goal of Mobiserv is not only to keep people independent and boost their quality of life, but also to support and empower their social carer, often the partner, in providing care.

To find out how people experience and feel about this companion in their home, researchers of the University of the West of England in Bristol (UK), the Smart Homes institute in Eindhoven (NL), and care organisation Ananz in Geldrop (NL) will perform extensive user evaluation studies with the robot companion in the upcoming months, varying from usability tests in a home lab, to full-day experience tests in a test home, to multi-day experiences in their own homes.

Enabling Technologies

The technical partners in the team have developed cutting-edge technologies to meet the objectives of Mobiserv. The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece developed specific algorithms to detect eating and drinking activities. The manufacturer of intelligent clothing Smartex in Italy together with research institute CSEM in Switzerland developed smart clothes for older people that monitor heart rate, respiration, temperature, posture and physical activity.

The Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland supervised all communication by the system and its components and provided algorithms to secure confidential and personal information gathered by the system. Finally, the French company Robosoft developed the personal robots, including sophisticated algorithms for navigation, obstacle avoidance, person detection, human-robot interactions and the actual services.

Provided Services

These technologies have been developed to enable a set of services that was determined at the start of the project by conducting extensive user research with end-users and their formal and informal carers. The set of services include reminders, suggestions, and encouragements on a physical, cognitive and social level.

For example, when a person does not drink for a certain time, which can lead to dehydration, the robot will approach the person and encourage him/her to drink, or even suggest a specific drink, based on the person's preferences or needs. The same holds for food, physical exercises, activities, and also for social contact; when a person does not communicate with anyone for a while, the robot will suggest to make a call, or to go out and visit someone, helpful for those at a risk of social isolation.

In addition to this, the robot keeps an eye on vital signs and sleeping patterns, and it can detect a fall. In case of an emergency, it will automatically contact a carer. The robot works in partnership with the person, offering nutrition/activity/safety coaching, and it is expected that it will contribute to a healthier and more enjoyable life, not only for the end user, but also for the social carer.

Final User Evaluations

Currently, the Mobiserv team is focussed on the preparations for the final user evaluation studies. Based on the findings from user studies in the previous years, the Mobiserv robot and services are being improved and fine-tuned to be useful, acceptable, and fun to use. In the upcoming evaluation studies, people will freely use their robot companion, and carers will personalize and use the system to support their beloved ones.

The purpose of the evaluations is to enable end-users and caregivers to experience what Mobiserv can do for them, to further improve Mobiserv, and to find out how to proceed in bringing this robot and its services to market. The ultimate goal is to enable people to support themselves, and others, in their wellbeing and independence.

The user evaluations will take place from April to June 2013, both in the UK and in The Netherlands. In the period from June to August, the Mobiserv project and its companion robot will be presented and demonstrated at several events throughout Europe, open to a wide audience and press, in all seven partner countries of the project.