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Robot Companions Being Developed to Help Care for Dementia Patients

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As amazing — and somewhat terrifying — robotic advances lead us toward the replacement of humans in the workforce, a university in Singapore is focusing on humanoids to help care for dementia patients.

Humanoid Nadine is both modeled and named after creator Nadia Thalmann, a computer graphics scientist who simultaneously serves as a Visiting Professor and Director of Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University’s Institute of Media Innovation, as well as the founder and head of the University of Geneva’s MIRALab Research Laboratory. Oh, and she holds degrees in Biology, Psychology, and Biochemistry in addition to her Quantum Physics PhD. She definitely sounds like the sort of person who could use a robotic clone of herself, but also the sort that doesn’t need one.

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A pioneer of Virtual Human 3D simulation, Thalmann has devoted the last three decades to researching both virtual humans and social robots. “Robotics technologies have advanced significantly over the past few decades and are already being used in manufacturing and logistics,” says the professor. “As countries worldwide face challenges of an aging population, social robots can be one solution to address the shrinking workforce, become personal companions for children and the elderly at home, and even serve as a platform for healthcare services in future.”

Currently, Nadine naturally excels as the receptionist at the university. With software similar to that of Siri, Nadine can act as a personal assistant or companion, yet is also capable of exhibiting personality and emotions. Thalmann predicts that humanoids with such social capabilities will one day be used as interactive companions for dementia-sufferers or children.

As solitary living can quickly reduce quality of life, those who live with dementia have a “need to always be in interaction,” says Thalmann. Nadine’s ability to remember names and previous conversations means humanoids like her could offer conversation or act as a partner for a simple game. “Nadine is somewhat like a real companion that is always with you and is conscious of what is happening,” says Thalmann.

Thalmann’s efforts also extend to the opposite end of the age spectrum, with continued development of a human-like robot designed for children. The humanoid’s interactive capabilities mean that a child’s “usually passive” toys could be replaced by an active toy which interacts with the child,” Thalmann says. “It will be able to remember what the child likes.” Beyond social companionship and interaction, the robot could also potentially act as an educational tool or stand-in supervisor for unattended children.

So, just to summarize: they’re taking our jobs, learning battlefield maneuvers, and raising our children. In other news, I’ve just decided to build an underground bunker.

Follow Nate Church @Get2Church on Twitter for the latest news in gaming and technology, and snarky opinions on both.


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