The c-Walker can help elderly people navigate safely through busy public spaces and connect with others in the vicinity

Networking robo-walker to improve social life of elderly

European researchers are developing a robotic walker for elderly people integrated with social networks that would make it easier for them to go out and do things together.

Part of the European project ACANTO, the work follows on that carried under the earlier DALI project, which developed a robotic walker that would guide elderly users through public places, increasing their confidence and autonomy.

“While in DALI we focused on the single user, in ACANTO we are thinking of groups of users who can do things together, such as visit a museum,” said Professor Luigi Palopoli, from the Trento University in Italy, who coordinated the project. “This will give them more incentive to go places.”

At the first glance, the device looks like any ordinary walker. The only difference is a simple display and interactive bracelet. However, this so-called c-Walker is packed with intelligent technology – it uses radio-frequency identification tags, invisible QR codes and cameras to find its position in the environment. It can exchange information with other similar walkers in the vicinity and even communicate with CCTV cameras to gain remote knowledge of the presence of anomalies, crowded spaces or other hazards.

The engineers behind the project envision that people who need assistance could pick up the walkers at the entrance to a shopping mall or a museum and it would then guide them through, providing haptic and visual feedback.

“The c-Walker is aimed at providing physical and cognitive support to older adults, Palopoli said. “It can give them confidence in public environments. The device is full of high-tech solutions, but the user is not necessarily aware of them. She or he comes into contact with a ‘standard’ walker, with a few additions such as the display or bracelets, and does not need any kind of computer literacy. The robot simply guides them so that they have a nice, safe experience.”

During the development of the walker, the researchers worked with focus groups for more than 50 elderly people in Spain and the UK to gain first-hand insights into their problems and needs.

The c-Walker, which will come at a €2,000 price tag, was later tested at residential care homes in Ciudad Real in Spain and Trento in Italy.

The first stage DALI project, funded through the European 7th Framework Programme, ended last year. The second stage ACANTO received €4.2m from the Horizon 2020 programme covering a three-year period until 2018.

The researchers hope their work will attract private investment that will enable the interconnected walker to be in the market by 2020, improving quality of life for people struggling with cognitive decline.


 

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