Your weekend robot fix: Hector and the chameleon

hector-robot-large456138 26558The CompanionAble Project, which a reader discovered in 2010 (1st comment), is making news with its robot assistant dubbed ‘Hector’. He works in concert with a tablet remote control and in a ‘smart home’ (now termed by CEDIA the ‘intuitive home’) setting, but could be ideal for independent or assisted living situations.. Hector is in his current incarnation a mite cludgy and toy-yellow resembling a pudgy, truncated Gumby (above), but he is highly interactive and responsive to your summons. He is also rather butler-like in reminding you of (or collecting) your wallet and keys, daily activities, calls and medications, and serves as your video call screen. Like a butler he’s also discreet, moving back to his charger when through. The tablet serves as an interaction point, as well as a home automation hub for curtains, music and cognitive games. CompanionAble is in the final stages of field trials in Holland and Belgium; it was awarded €7.8 million under the EU Seventh Framework Program and the 19 person team is led by Professor Atta Badii of the Intelligent Systems Research Laboratory at the University of Reading (UK). Hector: Robotic Assistance for the Elderly (Forbes) Video dialogue is in Dutch, 06:12.

Hector’s opposite number is this small, squishy robot that can get in all sorts of tiny places–and change color while doing it. Modeled after squid (no US Marine vs. Navycamouflage-robot 2 jokes, please), it can dynamically color itself to blend in with surroundings, like a chameleon, or go positively neon (right) in order to be seen–and can evade infrared sensors. Developed by Harvard’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology departments, with the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, for DARPA (and combat use), it is also inexpensive–about $100. A DARPA chameleon which is a natural for the teen boy market. Video demonstrating color transition (0:33). Harvard scientists develop soft robots that can camouflage themselves (Gizmag)

ADDITION: There is also the ipad-driven ‘Double’ (YouTube video) and news that a hospital in Northern Ireland is trying out what appears to be the RP-7i from InTouch Health. Heads-up thanks to Toni Bunting

robot  frankADDITION #2:  Editor Donna has been unforgivably remiss in mentioning the US-released (limited only) film ‘Robot & Frank’ which tells a charming tale of an older gentleman (Frank, played by Frank Langella) whose son gifts him with a white robot (not humanoid but small human sized, with fully functioning limbs and a racing driver helmet head) to assist Frank in his ADLs such as cleaning house, cooking meals, planting a garden and generally keeping him engaged in life. From the trailer, Frank gives new meaning to the last–he’s an ex-jewel thief who enlists Robot into a new heist, for a very good reason. This just went on Ed. Donna’s must-see list!  Will Hollywood Start a National Conversation about Care Robots? posits LeadingAge, which also mentions Hector above.

UPDATE 30 August:  David Doherty over at 3G Doctor Blog has quite a different and much less enthusiastic view of Hector and the entire CompanionAble project. Nothing personal.  And he has multiple examples on how mobile phones and current technology like the Doro Experience can do everything Hector can, for a lot less.