Every day, 10,000 American baby boomers turn 65 according to a Chicago Tribune report. Over 50% of them will sooner or later require long-term care due to conditions like Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, experts say that there’s just not enough caregivers to handle this increasing demand. This means that even if you had the money to pay for quality care, you may still have a hard time finding someone to take the job. Fortunately, an associate professor and his students from the Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science may have just found a solution.
Enter: Ryan the companion bot
Developed by associate professor Mohammad Mahoor and his students, Ryan’s main purpose is to help the elderly, particularly Alzheimer’s patients, get their daily dose of much-needed social interaction. Using the power of AI, cameras and special sensors, Ryan can not only carry actual human-like conversations but also read and mimic a patient’s emotions and facial expressions, ultimately recreating the empathy that, until now, only humans have been able to display. In addition to this, Ryan is also able to act as a talking to-do list, reminding patients to eat healthily, do chores, take their medication and go to the doctor for scheduled check-ups. Unfortunately, in its current form, the Ryan is not yet able to perform more physical tasks like most AI-powered household appliances do—but all that is about to change.
The future of Ryan
Mahoor and his team are planning to utilize Ryan’s current usage data to develop a more functional iteration in the future. Ryan 2.0 is, for instance, expected to sport arms that could not only help patients move and become more active but also take care of chores that may prove too difficult for them. The ultimate goal is to provide Alzheimer’s patients not just with a companion bot, but also a fully functional caregiver that does not get tired or make mistakes—a goal which Mahoor and are team is hoping to realize in by the end of 2019 in the form of a more advanced and commercially available Ryan.
The good thing about companion bots like Ryan is that once their technology is perfected, keeping up with the increasing demand for quality Alzheimer’s care effectively becomes a non-issue. Manufacturers would be able to simply scale production up or down as needed. And as new research on the condition becomes available, developers should also be able to easily update each bot’s functionality to accommodate the new findings, ultimately eliminating the need for expensive and time-consuming retraining.