RAG BLOG: Innovation for healthy aging

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Developed nations are facing common challenges related to aging population. The effort required to provide care services to an increasing ratio of people is becoming unbearable when following traditional service models – something new needs to be invented!

Human labor in developed nations is costly, so could robotics help saving costs by letting machines take care of routine tasks, allowing people focus on those aspects of care that they do the best?

This was the key question I had in my mind when I went to listen Todd Hylton give a talk ”Robotics on the Rise” in Downtown San Diego Partnership Offices on the 30th of November. This presentation was part of UCSD Office of Innovation and Commercialization Game Changer Series events. Todd is a professor of practice at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and executive director of the UC San Diego Contextual Robotics Institute.

I was happy to hear that the topic of robotics in healthy aging was one of the key application themes for the Contextual Robotics Institute. The technical themes target at solving challenges on 1) sensing and perception, 2) cognition and coordination, and 3) mobility and manipulation, so that robots can sense, adapt and act properly in real world uncontrolled environments vs. controlled setups like chess playing and industrial robotics where approriate actions can pretty much be preprogrammed.

Todd quoted the ‘Moravec’s Paradox’ that states how advanced a human sensomotoric performance is compared to our abstract thought capabilites that we have started to develop much more lately in our evolution. It will be long time before robots master the set of basic human sensomotoric skills at an adult level, however there is progress in understanding how the brain processes work and how they could be applied in robotics. There are  remarkable advances in communication (IoT), cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and significant funding for accelerating robotics as the solution for some of the the healthy ageing challenges.

Innovation in healthy ageing requires crossfunctional thinking and multi-skilled teams consisting of engineers, medical experts, cognitive scientists and sociologists that can share the whole picture of the human care present and targeted future situation. The UCSD Contextual Robotics Institute is a good example of how to get going in interdisciplinary projects in a university location. The institute is managed by Henrik I. Christensen and Todd Hylton with 42 member faculty and 10MUSD annual budget. Todd is building and affiliates program to get businesses involved in the development and exploitation of the innovations. There are similarities to what Aalto University is doing in Espoo, Airo Island for robotics in Helsinki and what the ROSE project is doing in care robotics in Finland.

The 1st of December I had the opportunity to visit Todd at his office in UCSD. We had a down to earth discussion on how the care for ageing population can be improved. Robotics will provide help  for the care professionals step by step but replacement for the human touch is not on the horizon. Additionally there is opportunity in using social media methods for enabling the aging people to help each other – this can be even more impactful and feasible that robotics applications in short term.

The healthy ageing is a joined global puzzle to solve.   The puzzle and the progress in solving it needs to be shared, and this can be accomplished by connections and communication between the innovation hubs through the globe.

Risto Soila

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Risto is RAG’s Innovation Guy, R&D professional focusing on innovation for healthy living by applying IoT, Digitalization and Robotics ideas. You can contact Risto by email: risto.soila (a) rag.fi