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Herbal Remedy Could Halt Peanut Allergy
Combating Myths About Seasonal Allergies
Molecule in Skin May Link Eczema and Asthma
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Meditation May Boost Short-Term Visual Memory
Imaging Sheds Light on How Acupuncture Works
U.S. Spends Billions On Alternative Medicine
ANIMAL CARE
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
Separation Anxiety, Canine-Style
Animals Respond to Acupuncture's Healing Touch
BONES & JOINTS
Postmenopausal Women With Breast Cancer Face Joint Issues
Many Americans Fall Short on Their Vitamin D
Rheumatoid Arthritis Hits Women Harder
CANCER
Smoking Ups Risk of Second Breast Cancer
Study Cites Gains in Gall Bladder Cancer Treatment
Green Tea May Help Prevent Oral Cancer
CAREGIVING
Health Tip: Benefitting From Adult Day Care
Omega-3 Fatty Acid May Help 'Preemie' Girls' Brains
Memory Loss Help from Brain Supplement Prevagen
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Migraines in Pregnancy Boost Vascular Risks
Vitamins Do Older Women Little Good
Bye, Bye Back Fat?
COSMETIC
Contact Lenses Boost Kids' Self-Image
Study Evaluates Laser Therapies for Hair Removal
Health Tip: After Liposuction
DENTAL, ORAL
Hormones May Be to Blame for Women's Cavity Rates
Dental Implants Need More Work Than Root Canals
Study Links Osteoporosis Drugs to Jaw Trouble
DIABETES
Vitamin K Slows Insulin Resistance in Older Men
'Standard' Glucose Test May Be Wrong One for Obese Children
Out-of-Control Blood Sugar May Affect Memory
DIET, NUTRITION
5 Reasons why you could gain weight while dieting
Breakfast Eggs Keep Folks on Diet
Heart Disease May Be Prevented By Taking Fish Oils, Study Shows
DISABILITIES
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Database Helps Assess Your Breast Cancer Risk
Bed Bugs Bring No Disease Danger
Staying Slim Is Good for the Environment
EYE CARE, VISION
Nearly 18 Million Will Have Macular Degeneration by 2050
Diabetic Hispanics Missing Out on Eye Exams
Americans Losing Sight of Eye Health
FITNESS
Simple Exercise Precautions To Help Keep Baby Boomers Fit
Exercise in Adolescence May Cut Risk of Deadly Brain Tumor
Exercise Keeps the Brain Young
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
New Yogurt May Ease Stomach Ulcers
New Guidelines Issued for Management of IBS
Gum Chewing May Speed Colon Surgery Recovery
GENERAL HEALTH
Swine Flu Fatality Rate a 'Little Bit' Higher Than That of Seasonal Flu
Living Alone Increases Odds of Developing Dementia
Biomarkers May Help Measure Rate of Decline in Dementia
HEAD & NECK
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Subway Defibrillators Save Lives
Save Your Aging Brain, Try Surfing The Web
E-Mailing Your Way to Healthier Habits
HEARING
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
How Weight Loss Can Help the Heart
Dark Chocolate May Lower Stroke Risk
More Steps a Day Lead to Better Health
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Bacterial Infections May Succumb to Honey
More Medicinal Uses for Pomegranate
Chinese 'Devil Dung' Plant Could Be a Swine Flu Fighter
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Music May Temper Pain in Preemies
Green Tea May Help Brain Cope With Sleep Disorders
Frequent Feedings May Be Making Babies Fat
MEN'S HEALTH
Vigorous Exercise Cuts Stroke Risk for Men, Not Women
The Dark Side of Vegetarianism
Strenuous Daily Workout May Keep Cancer at Bay
MENTAL HEALTH
Man's Best Friend Helps Mend Broken Hearts
Keeping a Healthy Holiday Balance
Most Depressed Teens Don't Get Treatment
PAIN
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
Are We Exercising Pain Away? Not So Much.
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Woman in America Are Delaying Motherhood, Study Says
Prenatal Stress May Boost Baby's Asthma Risk
Expectant Mom's Exercise Keeps Newborn's Birth Weight Down
SENIORS
A Little Alcohol May Stave Off Alzheimer's
Common Antioxidant Might Slow Parkinson's
For a Healthier Retirement, Work a Little
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Moderate Aerobics May Ease Insomnia Symptoms
Meditation May Help Put Primary Insomnia to Bed
Daylight Savings: Not a Bright Time for All
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Supportive Weigh-In Program Keeps Pounds Off
Alternative Treatments May Boost IVF Success
Prenatal Stress May Boost Baby's Asthma Risk
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Robots May Come to Aging Boomers' Rescue

TUESDAY, Nov. 18 (HealthDay News) -- In the not-so-distant future, American seniors may turn to helpful, uncomplaining robots to fill the worrisome "care gap" that many face today.

One of these autonomous devices, called the uBOT-5, is already capable of carrying out simple tasks while it monitors the home environment. The robot can even spot trouble -- such as a person falling down -- and call 911 if necessary.

The freestanding device can also bring a faraway loved one into an aging person's home via video Internet hook-up.

"So, if I'm at work, and it's lunch hour and I want to poke in on Dad, I can get on the Internet and basically 'step inside' the robot," said uBOT-5 co-inventor Rod Grupen, who directs the Laboratory for Perpetual Robotics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. With their face appearing via video on the front of the robot's head, the virtual visitor can converse with their loved one while moving the robot around, doing some cleaning, for example, or retrieving a dropped TV remote.

Any "authorized user" can jump into and guide the robot, Grupen said. "So, if you can't get to your doctor, your doctor can now come to you," he said. In fact, the UMass team hopes that the uBOT-5 will someday be capable of running simple medical tests, such as measuring blood pressure or blood sugar.

And because it's fully mobile, with Segway-like wheels, virtual visits from others should include much of the house, and beyond. "Your granddaughter on the West Coast can get into the robot and visit with you outside in the garden, you can have a two-way conversation with audio/video, hold hands and go show them the flowers you just planted," Grupen said.

There's a huge and growing need for robotic home assistants that might help care for the elderly or disabled and allow them to stay in their homes, Grupen believes. According to U.S. Census figures, the number of Americans age 65 or over will double by 2030, and two-thirds will need some form of long-term care. At the same time, there's a dearth of nurses and home health-care aides to care for them; experts predict a shortage of 800,000 nurses by 2020.

The uBOT-5's design was inspired by the human body. Its myriad sensors mimic human eyes and ears, constantly scanning its environment. It is even programmed to detect and respond to worrisome aberrations, including a fallen, unresponsive human. The robot's arms are each capable of handling 2.2-pound loads, and they can extend to reach high or pick things up off the floor (a dropped pill bottle, a package in a foyer, for example). The robot can lie prone to scoot itself under a bed (and then right itself), and it may even someday help with household cleaning and grocery shopping, Grupen said.

And the cost? Right now, the prototypes at UMass cost $65,000 apiece, but Grupen envisions a day when commercial versions would be sold for $5,000 plus a monthly Internet hook-up fee, much like today's computers.

And the uBOT-5 isn't the only such device in the pipeline. Over at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, researcher Nicolas Roy, at the institute's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, has developed an "autonomous wheelchair" that only requires a command to whiz users from one spot to another in a hospital or nursing home.

When first delivered to a facility, the wheelchair -- rigged out with high-tech scanning software -- has no knowledge of the particular layout. But staff will uncrate it, turn it on, and give it a verbal guided tour, walking it past different rooms and nursing stations.

"You talk to it like you'd talk to a new person, a new nurse. And as a side effect of the thing being walked through the facility once or twice, the wheelchair has now been demonstrated a route between all the points," explained co-developer Seth Teller, who helps lead the lab's Robotics, Vision and Sensor Networks Group.

After that, a wheelchair-bound stroke patient or quadriplegic need only say, "Take me to Room 451" for the chair to understand and then do just that. The device will be launched as a prototype ready for testing in a Boston-area nursing home within two years, Teller said.

Finally, at Georgia Tech, researchers led by assistant professor Charlie Kemp are making their own home-care robots, inspired by the agile intelligence of service dogs.

"We're using service dogs to answer three important questions: What tasks would be good for a [home] robot to perform? How should people interact with the robot, to tell it to do these tasks? And how can the robot actually perform these tasks, given the complexities of the home?" Kemp said.

Service dogs and the disabled people they help are providing the answers. The new robot is being designed to move about and perform tasks such as opening drawers, turning doorknobs and working light switches, Kemp said. Users indicate what they'd like done by using a laser pointer, and homes are modified slightly to help the robot, just as homes are subtly tweaked to aid service dogs. "Things like tying a small towel to a doorknob" to facilitate grasping, Kemp explained.

The robot may not ever replace a great service dog, but Kemp noted that the average disabled American now pays $16,000 for a properly trained canine, and waiting lists now stretch for years.

"I think there's a real need," he said. "So, the hope is that people will support this sort of work. Then, we'll be able to deliver these things when people need them."

-E.J. Mundell

More information

There's more on the uBOT-5 at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.



SOURCES: Rod Grupen, Ph.D., professor, computer science, and director, Laboratory for Perceptual Robotics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Seth Teller, Ph.D., professor, co-head, Robotics, Vision and Sensor Networks Group, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge; Charlie Kemp, Ph.D., assistant professor, department of biomedical engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta

Last Updated: Nov. 18, 2008

Copyright 2008 ScoutNews, LLC. All rights reserved.




Robots May Come to Aging Boomers' Rescue
UMASS Amherst

uBOT-5 robotic assistant