In a captivating talk at UCD recently, Dr. Mauro Dragone, Associate Professor at Heriot-Watt University, delved into the world of Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) and Cognitive Assistive Robotic Environments, shedding light on how robotic, autonomous, and interactive systems are revolutionising support for elderly individuals, ensuring their physical and mental well-being.
AAL refers to the integration of technology and processes that create a supportive environment for elderly people, promoting healthy and independent living. Dr. Dragone’s expertise in Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), and Robotics has led to pioneering advancements in building smart environments for assisted living applications.
During his talk, Dr. Dragone provided an insightful overview of the EMERGENCE network and the Cognitive Assistive Robotic Environment (CARE) group at the UK National Robotarium. His vision revolves around a future where smart environments can not only sense and react to user behavior but also proactively engage and cooperate with individuals using robotic technology.
Among the exciting projects discussed, Dr. Dragone highlighted:
(i) Semi-Autonomous Telepresence Robots:
These robots are integrated with a digital telecare system, effectively triaging emergency situations, and providing vital assistance during critical moments.
(ii) Autonomous Agent Systems:
These systems focus on developing cognitive assessment and cognitive assistive tools, empowering elderly individuals with the right support at the right time.
(iii) Novel Designs for Service Robots and Social Companions:
Using innovative 3D knitting material and soft robotics, these robots offer non-zoomorphic designs, enhancing interaction and companionship for elderly users.
What sets these projects apart is their participatory design approach, actively involving potential end-users of the technology. Dr. Dragone emphasised the importance of user-driven design and testing, ensuring that the technology meets the needs and preferences of elderly individuals.
As a pioneer in his field, Dr. Dragone initiated the EU project RUBICON, investigating cognitive architectures for self-learning AAL systems. At Heriot-Watt University, he established the Robotic Assisted Living Testbed (RALT), a living-lab within the UK National Robotarium. The RALT facilitates data collection and practical solutions for healthy aging and independent living.
Dr. Dragone’s passion for advancing assistive robotics extends to his involvement in EU projects developing benchmarks for assistive robots. He also serves as a Co-investigator of the EPSRC Healthcare NetworkPlus EMERGENCE. This network aims to bring together researchers, businesses, end-users, healthcare practitioners, and policymakers to enable healthcare robots to support people living with frailty in the community.
The event was organised by Dr. Vivek Nallur, Assistant Professor in Computer Science in the School of Computing, UCD. He collaborates with Dr. Dragone as a part of the Royal Society International Exchange grant – IES\R1\201320 Machine Ethics for Robotics Ambient Assisted Living Systems – that explores adding computational ethics to ethically charged decisions made by robots.