Staying young in old age with assistance robots

Most people want to remain independent and in their familiar surroundings for as long as possible in old age. This should be made possible by humanoid assistance robots, which relieve the strain of coping with everyday life, as well as attractable robots that support the wearer's movements. To make such futuristic robotic solutions suitable for everyday use, scientists at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) are conducting research. The Carl-Zeiss Foundation supports their research with 4.5 million euros.

In the project "JuBot - Staying Young with Robots: Versatile Assistance Robotics for Coping with Everyday Life", researchers are developing a new generation of the well-known humanoid ARMAR robots that are based at the KIT. These assistants are to perform everyday household tasks such as picking up and bringing objects, setting and clearing the table, loading the dishwasher, and communicating on different channels with relatives of the people they care for. On the other hand, the scientists want to research and develop attractable robots - also known as exoskeletons - which not only support the personal mobility of elderly people but also enable the targeted training of their motor and cognitive skills.

humanoider Roboter ARMAR 3
The humanoid ARMAR robots - here ARMAR-III - are designed to perform tasks in domestic or industrial environments. The next generation will support senior citizens in their everyday lives. (Photo: KIT)

Using robotics to meet demographic change

"It is one of the most urgent challenges of an aging society to maintain a self-determined life and a high quality of life for our fellow citizens who are in need of help," says Professor Holger Hanselka, President of KIT. "At the same time, we have to relieve nursing staff and take into account the shortage of skilled personnel in the nursing sector. Assistance robotics and technologies of artificial intelligence, as we are researching them at the KIT, are a key opportunity for this.

"Human-centered robotics is one of the future topics of the KIT. However, simply providing the technologies is not enough. When using assistance robots in shared human-robot habitats, we also have to consider aspects such as privacy protection, structural conditions, and social impacts," says Professor Oliver Kraft, Vice President for Research of the KIT. "This is why experts from robotics, artificial intelligence, human-machine interfaces, IT security, engineering and sports sciences, and architecture and technology assessment are working together at the KIT on a project like JuBot.

Exoskeletons can support the personal mobility of older people. (Photo: KIT)

robots learn from humans

"By interacting with humans, the JuBot robots should learn continuously and adapt to their individual needs and habits," says Professor Tamim Asfour from the Institute of Anthropomatics and Robotics of KIT and coordinator of the JuBot project. The ARMAR robots developed at KIT already perform complex tasks in a kitchen environment, learn from humans, and interact with humans using natural language. "We are pursuing a human-centered approach to address central questions of assistance robotics: versatility and personalization of the systems and their testing in real everyday environments," explains Asfour. To get there, the robots are first trained in a human-robot apartment at KIT and later tested in a senior citizens' center in Karlsruhe. "With the JuBot team, we not only want to advance the field of intelligent assistance robotics, but also contribute to a breakthrough in supporting a self-determined life of senior citizens".

In the "Breakthroughs" program, the Carl Zeiss Foundation is funding six interdisciplinary research projects in 2020. Research is conducted into intelligent solutions for an ageing society. The foundation supports the JuBots project at KIT with 4.5 million euros.

About the Carl-Zeiss Foundation

The Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung has set itself the goal of creating scope for scientific breakthroughs. As a partner of excellent science, it supports both basic research and application-oriented research and teaching in the MINT disciplines (mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and technology). Founded in 1889 by the physicist and mathematician Ernst Abbe, the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung is one of the oldest and largest private science-promoting foundations in Germany. It is the sole owner of Carl Zeiss AG and SCHOTT AG. Its projects are financed from the dividend distributions of the two foundation companies.

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