Stevie the wonder robot brings 21st-century touch to helping elderly

Stevie isn’t exactly the Adonis of robots, but looks can be deceiving. With a head that lends a whole new meaning to the word “interface”, Stevie is a wonder and represents a giant leap in the care of the elderly in Ireland.

It may be a bit of a square, with a painted smile and turbo-charged eyebrows, but he is always willing to help.

“I am here to assist you and make your life easier,” Stevie told RTÉ’s Will Goodbody during his unveiling yesterday by robotics engineers from Trinity College Dublin.

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In a simulated voice that sounds a bit like the English actor and broadcaster Stephen Fry, it declared: “I can also perform security patrols and notify an emergency contact if something seems wrong.”

Stevie is the first prototype robot designed to work in assisted care facilities and help the elderly and people living with disability in Ireland. 

The team behind the robot has recently secured significant development funding from Enterprise Ireland to move the prototype towards a marketable model via a new start-up company.

The friendly-looking robot has some human-like features and performs some autonomous tasks and some that are human-controlled. 

It will initially be charged with performing routine tasks in nursing homes and assisted care facilities.

When fully developed, Stevie will be able to assist elderly and people living with disability.

“It will help people to live independently, help people to live in their homes longer,” said Conor McGinn, assistant professor in mechanical and manufacturing engineering.

“Nursing homes face significant care challenges, especially during the night when caregiver-to-resident ratios are low. Our solution can perform several routine tasks, which will improve efficiency and substantially alleviate pressure on care staff during periods when the facility may be understaffed.”

The multidisciplinary team that created Stevie consulted with a wide range of experts during the robot’s development, including nurses and caregivers as well as elderly patients living in assisted care facilities.

The team has recently started working with Alone, a national organisation that supports older people to age at home.

“The robot is being developed to augment, not replace human care,” said Prof McGinn. 

“Through collaboration with organisations like Alone, we have been able to get a better understanding of the challenges people face as they get older and get valuable user feedback on many aspects of the system.”

The team aims to have the robot market-ready by 2021. Over the next two years, it will be piloting the technology in several care facilities in both Ireland and the US. 

The first pilot is scheduled to take place in the summer of 2018.

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