Smart living and robotics: challenges and future directions

Industrial Robot

ISSN: 0143-991x

Article publication date: 18 October 2011



(2011), "Smart living and robotics: challenges and future directions", Industrial Robot, Vol. 38 No. 6.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Smart living and robotics: challenges and future directions

Article Type: Viewpoint From: Industrial Robot: An International Journal, Volume 38, Issue 6

Statistics show that for adults over 65, up to 82 per cent of waking time behavior occurs at home and about one-third of each day is devoted to basic daily living activities. In addition, an increasing number of older adults live alone. Older adults frequently report difficulty performing activities such as cooking and cleaning, and accidents involving older adults account for approximately 43 per cent of all home fatalities. According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), the most common causes of accidental injury for older people are:

  • falls on stairways, floors, and bathtubs;

  • burns/scalds from cooking, hot water, and fires; and

  • poisoning from gases and vapors.

Even those under 65 often spend at least two-thirds of each day at home. A 2009 US Department of Labor survey shows that employed persons between the ages of 25 and 54 who live in households with children under 18 spend an average of 8.7 h per day on work-related activities, and 15.3 h at home. While at home, they spend 2.6 h doing leisure and sports activities and 3.5 h on home activities such a housework, food preparation and cleanup, and lawn and garden care.

Needed is technology for creating smart living environments that provide basic needs, comfort, safety, and leisure. Advances in personal computers, miniature wireless sensors, smart phones with built-GPS, and robotics have made this challenging task more manageable. Here we will briefly present possible future directions for development of robots and robotic devices.


Robots and robotic devices need to be able to adjust to individual human needs. Embedding them with the flexibility to accommodate to individual needs is a challenging direction. In addition to satisfying basic needs, comfort, safety, and leisure, other practical concerns may include reliability, cost, and ethics. Surveys on topics related to comfort, well-being, and safety may be used to obtain a better understanding of individual differences and needs.

Roles for robot companions

The development of robot companions such as Sony’s AIBO robot dog has spurred discussion about the value of these inventions. However, “cute” does not need to mean “useless.” Studies have shown that seniors get a boost from being with flesh-and-blood pups and prefer to be alone with a dog rather than with human companions. Robot pets may be useful when real pets are unavailable or their presence is inconvenient. A dancing robot may be a good companion for autistic children. Further exploration of roles for robotic companions in entertainment and education is needed.

Development of domestic helper robots

Domestic helper robots that would help around the home or even care for the elderly have sold poorly so far. Perhaps robotics makers should focus on what exactly robots can and can’t do well for humans. For example, Boston Dynamics’ BigDog – a legged robot being developed for DARPA and the US Army – maintains its balance on diverse terrain while carrying several hundreds of pounds of supplies on its back. Perhaps a legged robot can also find good applications in a large nursing home environment.

Improved interfaces between robots and humans

Individuals may have very specific and varied needs and preferences for communicating with robots, especially elderly people and disabled individuals. A team of researchers at Northeastern University in Boston is working on a brain-robot interface that allows users to command a robot by looking at specific regions on a computer. The system detects brain signals from the user’s visual cortex, and directs the robot to move left, right, and forward. Interfaces that are intuitive and flexible will be much more usable and accessible to people who might benefit from robot technology the most.

Sheng-Jen (“Tony”) HsiehDirector – Rockwell Automation Lab, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA

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