The National Science Foundation (NSF) is spending roughly $1.2 million to use robots to dress the elderly.
Citing an aging population, the federal agency issued a grant this month that will teach robots how they can assist old people in picking out an outfit.
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"The aging population, rising healthcare costs, and shortage of healthcare workers in the United States create a pressing need for affordable and effective personalized care," the NSF grant said. "Physical disabilities due to illness, injury, or aging can result in people having difficulty dressing themselves, and the healthcare community has found that dressing is an important task for independent living."
"The goal of this research is to develop techniques that enable robots to assist people with putting on clothing, which is a challenging task for robots due to the complexities of cloth, the human body, and robots," the grant said.
The work will involve a computer simulation that can mix and match numerous outfit combinations.
"A key aspect of this research is that robots will discover how they can help people by quickly trying out many options in a computer simulation," the grant said. "Success in this research would make progress towards robots capable of giving millions of people greater independence and a higher quality of life."
"In addition to healthcare applications, this research will result in better computer tools for fruitful collaborations between robots and humans in other scenarios," it added.
The project is expected to run 5 years, until June 2019, and has received a $1,199,987 budget thus far.
C. Karen Liu, an associate professor in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Interactive Computing, is leading the study. She previously worked on a project that created a video of a simulated robot putting on a jacket, a pair of shorts while sitting, putting on a vest, and a robe.
Other past research includes a simulation of a person riding a bike and demonstrating a "wheelie, endo, bunny hop, front wheel pivot and back hop."
The NSF has financed projects using robots to assist the elderly before. Last year the agency spent $799,860 to create "robot butlers" to make sure older Americans are eating right.