ALLERGY, RESPIRATORY
Air Pollution May Raise Blood Pressure
Childhood Food Allergies on the Rise
Molecule in Skin May Link Eczema and Asthma
ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
Music Therapy For Prehistoric Man?
No Verdict Yet on Grape Seed Extract vs. Breast Cancer
Pain-Relieving Powers of Acupuncture Unclear
ANIMAL CARE
Safe Toys for Dogs
Animals Respond to Acupuncture's Healing Touch
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
BONES & JOINTS
Gene Plays Key Role in Clubfoot
New Clues to How Fish Oils Help Arthritis Patients
In Elderly Women, Hip Fractures Often Follow Arm Breaks
CANCER
Exercise Cuts Lung Cancer Risk in Ex-Smokers by 45%
Omega-3 May Safely Treat Precancerous Bowel Polyps
Vitamin C Shows Promise as Cancer Treatment
CAREGIVING
Tiniest Babies Carry Biggest Costs
New Guidelines for Treating Heart Failure
Critically Ill Patients Lack Vitamin D
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
Night Shift Work Hard on the Heart
Exercise Extends Life of Kidney Patients
Mercury in Fish Linked to High Blood Pressure
COSMETIC
Gum Chewing May Cut Craving for Snacks
With Psoriasis, the Internet May Offer Hope
What to Do If You Have Unsightly Veins
DENTAL, ORAL
Periodontal Disease Impacts Whole Health
Toothbrushing May Stave Off Heart Woes
An Oral Approach to Heart Disease
DIABETES
Whole Grains Take a Bite Out of Type 2 Diabetes Risk
Older Diabetics With Depression Face Higher Death Rate
Lifestyle Factors Tied to Older Adults' Diabetes Risk
DIET, NUTRITION
Decline of Underweight Children in U.S. Continue to Fall
Fish Oil's Benefits Remain Elusive
Most Fast-Food French Fries Cooked in Unhealthiest Oil
DISABILITIES
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Fish in U.S. Rivers Tainted With Common Medications
Are Medical Meetings Environmentally Unfriendly?
Staying Slim Is Good for the Environment
EYE CARE, VISION
Stem Cells Repair Damaged Corneas in Mice
Eye Problems, Hearing Loss May Be Linked
Kids Who Spend More Time Outdoors Have Better Vision
FITNESS
Diet, Exercise May Slow Kidney Disease Progression
Fitness Fades Fast After 45
After a Stroke, Light Exercise Gets Hands, Arms Working Again
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Traditional Nonsurgical GERD Treatments Not Impressive
Soothing Imagery May Help Rid Some Kids of Stomach Pain
Gum Chewing May Speed Colon Surgery Recovery
GENERAL HEALTH
When Healing Becomes a Commodity
Hoping for a Happy Family Holiday? Here's How
Spread of Swine Flu in Japan Could Raise WHO Alert to Highest Level
HEAD & NECK
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
Using Light Therapy to Silence Harmful Brain Activity
Subway Defibrillators Save Lives
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
HEARING
Summer Sounds Can Lead to Hearing Loss
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Kids With Vitamin D Deficiency Linked to Heart Trouble
Relaxation Tapes or Mozart Lower Blood Pressure
Women Who Run May Benefit From Extra Folic Acid
INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Surgical Masks Could Prevent Flu, Maybe
Swine Flu Is Now a Pandemic Says W.H.O.
Swine Flu Now Reported in All 50 States
INFERTILITY
Obesity May Affect Fertility in Young Womene
KID'S HEALTH
Bullying Seems to Affect Kids Years Later
Babies Cared For In Others Homes Might Become Heavy Toddlers
Exercise in Adolescence May Cut Risk of Deadly Brain Tumor
MEN'S HEALTH
Exercise May Prevent Prostate Cancer: Study Shows
Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
Physical Activity May Prolong Survival After Colon Cancer
MENTAL HEALTH
Consciousness Helps the Mind and Body Work Together
Vitamin C Protects Some Elderly Men From Bone Loss
Shop 'Til You Drop: You May Feel Better
PAIN
Acupuncture, Real or Fake, Eases Back Pain
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Breast-Feeding Benefits Moms and Babies
For Baby and Mom Alike, Breast-Feeding May Be Best
Alternative Treatments May Boost IVF Success
SENIORS
High-Impact Activity May Be Good for Old Bones
Healthy Diet Could Cut Alzheimer's Disease Risk
Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
SEXUAL HEALTH
SLEEP DISORDERS
Lose Weight, Sleep Apnea May Improve
Daylight Savings: Not a Bright Time for All
6 to 8 Hours of Shut-Eye Is Optimal for Health
WOMEN'S HEALTH
Being Active an Hour a Day Puts Brakes on Weight Gain
Mom and Baby Alike May Benefit From Exercise
Flame-Retardant Chemical Linked to Conception Problems
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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