Article image

New robots can help you find objects that you’ve lost or misplaced

At the University of Waterloo, a team of pioneering engineers has found an innovative way to program robots that could significantly aid people struggling with dementia. These robots are designed to help individuals locate essential items – such as medicine, eyeglasses, or phones – that they often misplace.

The implications of this technology extend beyond aiding those with dementia. This technology could revolutionize the way anyone finds lost items, potentially turning a frantic search into a quick, effortless task.

“The long-term impact of this is really exciting,” Dr. Ali Ayub, a post-doctoral fellow in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo, enthuses. 

He envisions a future where users interact not just with any companion robot but with a personalized companion robot. “A user can be involved… with a personalized companion robot that can give them more independence,” he asserts.

Inspired by concern for rising number of dementia cases

Ayub, alongside three of his colleagues, was inspired by the rising number of individuals coping with dementia. This debilitating condition can limit brain function, causing confusion, memory loss, and disability. These symptoms often lead to a decreased quality of life as individuals frequently forget the location of everyday objects, adding stress to their caregivers.

The engineers propose a novel solution to this problem – a companion robot equipped with its own form of episodic memory. They utilized artificial intelligence to create a new type of artificial memory, a feature they believe could be a game-changer.

How the robots were created

The research began with a Fetch mobile manipulator robot, equipped with a camera to perceive its surroundings. The team then programmed the robot using an object-detection algorithm, enabling it to detect, track, and maintain a memory log of specific objects within its field of vision. 

This memory log was created using stored video. The robot, now capable of distinguishing one object from another, records the time and date when objects come into or leave its view.

The engineers also developed a graphical interface to enhance user experience. Users can select objects they want the robot to track. 

After typing in the names of the objects, users can then search for them using a smartphone app or computer. The robot, in response, can indicate when and where it last saw the specified object.

The system has proven to be highly accurate in tests. Ayub acknowledges that while the technology might be daunting for some individuals with dementia, caregivers could readily use it to assist in their duties.

As they move forward, the research team plans to conduct user studies with people without disabilities, followed by tests with individuals living with dementia. This exciting development points to a future where personalized companion robots could make a significant difference in the lives of those dealing with dementia, and anyone else who’s ever misplaced something important.

More about dementia

Dementia is a general term for a range of conditions associated with a decline in brain function that impacts daily life. It’s not a specific disease but rather a group of symptoms that affect memory, thinking, problem-solving, language, and perception.

There are various types of dementia, and some people may have a combination of types. The most common type is Alzheimer’s disease, accounting for 60-80% of cases. Other types include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, and frontotemporal dementia.

Dementia is characterized by a number of symptoms. The most well-known is memory loss, especially the difficulty remembering recent events (short-term memory loss). Other symptoms can include challenges with thinking and problem-solving, difficulty with language and communication, changes in mood, confusion and disorientation, and difficulties carrying out daily activities.

It’s important to note that dementia is not a normal part of aging. While it’s true that the likelihood of developing dementia increases with age, many older adults never develop it. In addition, dementia can also affect younger people, a condition known as early-onset dementia.

Risk factors for dementia include age, family history, certain genetic mutations, and lifestyle factors like smoking and alcohol use. Conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol may also increase the risk of dementia.

As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, there is no cure for dementia, but there are treatments that can slow its progression and improve the quality of life for those affected. These typically involve medication, cognitive training, therapy, and lifestyle changes.

Research is ongoing to better understand dementia, find effective treatments, and ultimately discover a cure. This includes the development of new technologies and approaches, such as the companion robot for individuals with dementia described in your earlier question.

Image Credit: University of Waterloo 


Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day