The Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (IPA) has developed “MobiNa”, a mobile emergency assistant to deliver external support to elderly and infirm people. “MobiNa” will enable them to stay in their own homes as long as possible, where they can lead an independent life. Dr. Birgit Graf, leader of the Domestic and Personal Robotics group at the Fraunhofer IPA stated: “One of the reasons why elderly and infirm people move into a nursing home is that they are concerned about their limited opportunities to communicate with their friends and family and in particular the fear that no immediate help is available in medically critical situations.” “MobiNa” is an interactive service robot which is capable of independent navigation. It has many features such as a stationary sensor system that automatically detects when a person falls. “MobiNa” assists its owner, not only as a reliable helper in emergency situations, but also as a continuously-available mobile communication system.
“MobiNa” is a mobile robot that can be a lifesaver in an emergency situation, for example after the fall of its owner. The robot autonomously makes its way to the person in need and establishes contact with an emergency call centre by way of its screen, integrated loudspeakers and microphones: Is it an emergency? Where did the accident happen? “The robot monitors the user’s situation, and if the situation is deemed an emergency, it can, if agreed with the user, establish a video link to an emergency call centre,” explained Dr. Graf. Employees at the emergency call centre are then able to use the robot’s cameras to assess the situation and, together with the person in need, decide what kind of help may be required.
The robot is linked up to an emergency detection system that transmits the coordinates of the person in need to the robot. Suitable interfaces have already been implemented in sens@home, an automatic video and sensor-based safety system that was also developed at the Fraunhofer IPA. “The system is able to detect the position of a person, no matter whether the person is standing, sitting or lying down. It can also detect rapid changes in the position of the person in need,” Dr. Graf said, adding, “MobiNa is very flexible and can be linked with any other emergency detection system.”
The mobile assistant “MobiNa” is able to orientate itself and can detect not only individual rooms, but also the person lying on the ground. It achieves this with a 3D sensor and an intelligent unit for combining and analysing data on movement patterns. “The hardware components must be integrated well into the user’s home, including a charging station where “MobiNa” can dock at regular intervals. It also requires a clear living space so that the robot’s mobility is not compromised,” Dr. Graf explained.
The simple interaction between the mobile assistant and its user is an important prerequisite for the successful application of “MobiNa” as without it, acceptance of the system is less likely. The goal of the system is to provide maximum coverage and detection of emergency situations in people’s own homes while at the same time minimising the number of unnecessary callouts and false alarms.
“A mobile communication system such as “MobiNa” offers clear advantages compared to a conventional home emergency call system,” explained Ralf Simon King, a scientist in the Domestic and Personal Robotics group at the Fraunhofer IPA and “MobiNa” product designer. While an elderly or infirm person always has to carry a conventional emergency call button around with them, “MobiNa” independently monitors the user’s situation and, if necessary, establishes immediate video phone contact with a person in an emergency call centre, who can then assess the situation, give advice, or, if this situation is critical, alert an emergency service. “This effectively avoids unnecessary callouts and false alarms,” said King.
“MobiNa“ not only provides emergency assistance, it also comes with video call and reminder functionality that supports the social integration of elderly people who live on their own. “MobiNa is a mobile communication system in the same price class as a high-grade consumer electronics product or good robotic vacuum cleaner. In everyday use, “MobiNa” serves as “tablet computer on wheels” with video call functionality that allows the users to Skype with their grandchildren or to be reminded to take their medication. Particular importance was given to making the interaction between the robot and the user as intuitive as possible: the display can be tilted and if necessary, “MobiNa” can be moved aside by using the two handles provided. In addition, “MobiNa” employs an LED light indicator to signal its status if, for example, it detects a problem. If the robot needs to intervene at night, the LED indicator allows “MobiNa” to shine a light on the user and enable the employee at the service call centre to assess the situation more effectively.
“The practical design – neither square edged nor too delicate – not only addresses practical considerations, it is also consistent with the wishes of the target audience,” said King. Surveys conducted prior to the start of work on “MobiNa” found that elderly and infirm people are negatively disposed to robots in human form, which is why the researchers opted for a functional design. The survey also found that if the robotic assistant is too big in size, it is perceived as an alien body in the home.The researchers at Fraunhofer are now in search of industrial cooperation partners to develop “MobiNa” to production readiness. Extensive laboratory tests have already been conducted. The next step is to carry out a series of trials in realistic application scenarios in order to guarantee a user-focused design consistent with real-world needs.
Further information:Fraunhofer IPADr.-Ing. Dipl.-Inf. Birgit GrafHead of 324/Domestic and Personal RobotsNobelstraße 1270569 StuttgartTel.: +49 (0)711-970-1910Fax: +49 (0)711-970-1008E-mail: birgit.graf(at)ipa.fraunhofer.de