Design issues for Assistive Robotics for the Elderly

Qinggang Meng, Mark Lee

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The worldwide population of elderly people is growing rapidly and in the coming decades the proportion of older people in the developed countries will change significantly. This demographic shift will create a huge increase in demand for domestic and health-care services and this in turn has the potential to create a major new market for domestic service robots that can assist with the care and support of the elderly and infirm. However, unlike industrial robots, assistive service robots are still under-developed and are not widely deployed. We analyse the nature of the requirements for assistive robotics for the elderly and argue that traditional 'industrial' robot engineering approaches are either inappropriate or inadequate to tackle the key problem areas, which we identify as: safety, adaptivity, long-term autonomy of operation, user-friendliness and low costs. A key issue is user acceptability and this paper explores how seemingly difficult and possibly conflicting design requirements can be integrated in a human-centred approach. We develop an approach to the design of autonomous assistive robots for the home, with emphasis on the user and the tasks to be performed. We then introduce some design principles and apply these to a simplified case study. The case study was implemented as a concrete illustration, and a series of experiments are reported. The demonstration shows, (a) how existing software techniques can be combined in a synthesis that satisfies several key design ideas, (b) how a software architecture can provide a flexible and extensible substrate for the integration of the design, and (c) how this approach can be sensitive to the concept of user 'empathy' that is characteristic of these applications. By highlighting significant design issues and suggesting different approaches, we hope assistive robotics will be better able to address the novel demands of assistive applications in health-care situations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)171-186
Number of pages16
JournalAdvanced Engineering Informatics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 01 Apr 2006


  • assistive devices
  • service robotics
  • autonomous error recovery
  • human-centred design


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