New “artificial memory” enables robots to help find misplaced items.
Engineers from the University of Waterloo have developed an innovative method for programming robots to aid individuals with dementia in finding lost items such as medicine, glasses, or phones.
Although the primary aim is to support this particular demographic, the technology holds the potential to benefit anyone who has experienced the frustration of misplacing an object and searching tirelessly for it.
“The long-term impact of this is really exciting,” said Dr. Ali Ayub, a post-doctoral fellow in electrical and computer engineering. “A user can be involved not just with a companion robot but a personalized companion robot that can give them more independence.”
Ayub and three colleagues were struck by the rapidly rising number of people coping with dementia, a condition that restricts brain function, causing confusion, memory loss, and disability. Many of these individuals repeatedly forget the location of everyday objects, which diminishes their quality of life and places additional burdens on caregivers.
Engineers believed a companion robot with an episodic memory of its own could be a game-changer in such situations. And they succeeded in using artificial intelligence to create a new kind of artificial memory.
The research team began with a Fetch mobile manipulator robot, which has a camera for perceiving the world around it.
Next, using an object-detection algorithm, they programmed the robot to detect, track and keep a memory log of specific objects in its camera view through stored video. With the robot capable of distinguishing one object from another, it can record the time and date objects enter or leave its view.
Researchers then developed a graphical interface to enable users to choose objects they want to be tracked and, after typing the objects’ names, search for them on a smartphone app or computer. Once that happens, the robot can indicate when and where it last observed the specific object.
Tests have shown the system is highly accurate. And while some individuals with dementia might find the technology daunting, Ayub said caregivers could readily use it.
Moving forward, researchers will conduct user studies with people without disabilities, then people with dementia.
Reference: “Where is My Phone?: Towards Developing an Episodic Memory Model for Companion Robots to Track Users’ Salient Objects” by Juhi Shah, Ali Ayub, Chrystopher L. Nehaniv and Kerstin Dautenhahn, 13 March 2023, ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction 2023.