Pepper robot communicating with a researcher

Pepper robot transformed to care for patients with brain injuries

Image credit: Retogar

Researchers from the University of Alicante, Spain, are working to adapt the popular Pepper robot to assist and communicate with people with acquired brain injuries.

Caring for patients with neurological injuries as they gradually recover and readjust to ordinary life requires almost constant attention. Sociable robots could potentially reduce the workload of nurses and other healthcare professionals by assisting these patients.

Computer scientists from the University of Alicante, Spain, have been attempting to develop a robotic system to help with this work.

The Retogar project began in January and will continue through 2018 and 2019. It is a continuation of a project completed in 2016, which led to the creation of a multi-sensor device capable of adapting to the needs of patients with different motor and cognitive disabilities.

The ongoing project is focused around the development of a sociable robot which can interact with a patient during rehabilitation.

The researchers are working with an existing robot, Pepper, a friendly-looking robot created by SoftBank and Alderbaran Robotics. Pepper can read some emotions, analysing facial expression and tone of voice. While Pepper is not available as a domestic companion, it is used as a research robot and its creators have stated that they hope other developers will create new uses for it.

The University of Alicante team are pre-programming Pepper with behaviours and scenarios and will use natural language processing, visual attention and sound learning to help it understand commands and its surroundings.

“Other than interacting with the patient, it would guide them with daily therapeutic exercises and activities such as taking medication or brushing their teeth,” said Professor Miguel Cazorla, an associate professor of computer science at the university.

Geolocation sensors will detect high-risk situations within the home and outdoors and the robot will use sophisticated new sensors to identify motor difficulties, disorientation and reduced visibility of the patient; all complications that can follow brain injury. The robot will be able to send alerts when it detects risks.

The researchers will also develop virtual reality applications and 3D interfaces for the patients.

The resulting technology will be tested in household and outdoor scenarios with real patients with brain injuries, in collaboration with the Casaverde Foundation, which helps patients complete their neurological and physical rehabilitation.

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