Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

H2020

I-SUPPORT — Result In Brief

Project ID: 643666
Funded under: H2020-EU.3.1.4.
Country: Spain
Domain: Industrial Technologies, Digital Economy

Robots to help the elderly bathe

The increase in life expectancy in the past century has presented mobility issues for the elderly. Researchers have created a shower robot to aid them with bathing tasks.
Robots to help the elderly bathe
Unprecedented gains in the life expectancy of the European population are often accompanied by low mobility due to age-related chronic conditions and loss of abilities.

One important measure of quality of life is a person’s ability to perform daily activities such as bathing, dressing, using the toilet and eating with dignity. The EU-funded I-SUPPORT initiative set out to develop a robotic system to assist the elderly with bathing and showering themselves. The team had to develop a safe, independent system that can assist in tasks such as washing, scrubbing, rinsing, and getting to hard-to-reach body parts.

The care that goes into the gentle design

Rafael López led the I-SUPPORT team to develop an advanced system that would combine cognition, perception, context awareness, machine learning, and actuation. The team had to integrate this complex system into a platform that can adapt to a frail, elderly person’s needs with easy-to-use commands through voice and intuitive gestures.

In line with modern safety standards, the team used state-of-the-art but cheap and soft robotic arms together with advanced motion control. I-SUPPORT took human behaviour, sociology, safety, cost, and acceptable ethics into account while developing the showering equipment and validated the system in studies with elderly subjects.

The team integrated the I-SUPPORT service robotics system in two hospitals as pilot sites – the Bethanien Hospital in Heidelberg (Germany) and Fondazione Santa Lucia in Rome (Italy).

Making a robotic helper

The I-SUPPORT system has a modular design architecture made up of two robotic systems; a motorised chair and two robotic shower hoses. The motorised chair safely transfers the user from the door of the shower room to the shower workspace. The two robotic shower hoses have gentle, human-like motions and are dedicated to the upper body and the lower body.

A control system actuates the robotic motion in two layers; one that supervises the washing tasks, and another that generates soft-arm motion. The researchers taught the system motion patterns by observing and capturing the movements of a caregiver’s hand. In addition, the system changes motion patterns according to the posture and physique of the elderly user.

Both autonomous and semi-autonomous operation is available. In autonomous mode the robot operates by making decisions on its own without any input from the elderly subject. With semi-autonomous mode, the senior subject interacts with the robot and controls the sequence of washing tasks such as the initiation, the termination and the repetition.

Importance of data privacy

“All personal data is anonymised and stored locally in the I-SUPPORT computer; never transmitted over the internet. “The images are captured and processed instantaneously by the local I-SUPPORT computer, and automatically discarded so no personal data is exposed,” notes López.

“The devices are waterproofed, certified, and have been tested extensively in wet conditions during shower activities,” López concludes. The team plan to turn the I-SUPPORT service robotic system into a successful commercial product, in part by making it look aesthetically attractive.

Keywords

I-SUPPORT, robotic, elderly, robotic shower, intuitive control
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