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IBM creates Watson-powered robot for eldercare assistance

Fri 9 Dec 2016

IBM, in partnership with Rice University, has created a robot to assist the elderly and their caregivers. The MERA, or Multi-purpose Eldercare Robot Assistant, uses IBM’s Watson AI to provide assistance to the elderly and monitor vital signs and environmental changes in a non-invasive manner.

IBM also announced plans to work with Italian healthcare provider Sole Cooperativa to install sensors in elderly communities to monitor resident activities.

meraUsing advances in research on embodied cognition, the MERA combines real-time sensor data with cognitive computing, giving medical professionals and caregivers access to information they can then use to improve response time and patient care.

IBM MERA combines Watson AI with a technology called CameraVitals, developed at Rice University, that calculates vital signs using recorded video of a person’s facial expressions. The MERA runs on the IBM Cloud and uses a Softbank Pepper robot interface to estimate an individual’s vital signs, including heart and breathing measurements in a non-invasive manner. It can view and respond if a person has fallen, alerting the caregiver that a patient may be in distress.

The MERA also has interactive capabilities provided by the Watson Speech-to-Text and Natural Language Classifier applications.


The MERA was created to address challenges posed by an ageing population. With a population of people over the age of 65 expected to comprise over 20% of the total population in the US by 2050, automating care for the elderly is an important part of allowing people to maintain independence as they get older, and remain at home rather than at care facility.

The partnership with Sole Cooperativa is focused on building smart living solutions for the elderly. Using IBM cognitive computing and advances in data collection through the Internet of Things, sensors in smart residences can be used to identify changes or anomalies in the physical environment and alert caregivers to those changes.

Integrating sensor data with IBM cognitive capabilities will give Sole Cooperativa a holistic view of the day-to-day lives of their residents. Streaming data and alerting caregivers to anomalies in routine or environment of the patients will allow for a faster response to issues, and allow the residents of the smart apartments to live independently and safely without the need for constant care.

Roberta Massi, President, Sole Cooperativa said, “By better understanding a person’s routines and surroundings, we can identify potential risks, personalize care and deliver precise recommendations that improve their quality of life. We can also more effectively improve our business operations by ensuring our staff is more focused on helping residents and patients as potential medical issues arise.”


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