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4th March 2014

Intelligent computer 'avatar' could help care for older people in own homes in future

A computer-generated 'avatar' or screen-based intelligent hologram could help monitor the health of older people so they can remain living independently in their own homes for longer in future, according to researchers.

A team from the University of Kent is developing an avatar which would appear as a 'humanised' figure on a tv screen, computer or tablet in the home of an older person which could:

  • Monitor heart rate, blood pressure and remind people to take medication.
  • Alert a doctor or the emergency services if an older person fell over or was in pain.
  • Analyse the speech, movement and facial expressions of older people to detect their mood and respond accordingly
  • According to the developers the system would not require computer literacy and would be no more challenging to operate than switching on a television.

The idea came about as part of a project to support the UK's aging population through the use of responsive and interactive avatars.

The University of Kent's Centre for Child Protection is heading a consortium of partners developing a project, known as Responsive InTeractive Advocate (RITA), which has won a share of £2.4m in funding from the UK's innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) as part of an initiative aimed at developing new cost-effective ways of helping elderly people to continue to live comfortably and independently in their own homes if they want to.

Dr Jane Reeves, co-director of the University of Kent's Centre for Child Protection, said: 'There is a major debate about how we provide care for vulnerable people across all age-groups and this project is seeking to meet one of our biggest challenges, which is ensuring older adults can remain independent for as long as possible.

'Although this project is at an early stage, with a number of technical, moral and ethical issues to be addressed, the development of RITA in the form of a humanised avatar could revolutionise how an individual’s personal, social emotional and intellectual needs are met in the future.
'RITA would exist as a digital champion, an advocate in the form of an avatar, providing a friendly interface between the individual, family, friends, professions and services.'



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