Germany: Robotic support for nursing care

The Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences has developed the nursing robot "ROSWITHA". Based on state-of-the-art autonomy technology, an interdisciplinary scientific team will devote the next three years to develop its robotic embodiment.

The "ROSWITHA" robot is set to match the needs of an aging population

The Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences (Frankfurt UAS) has developed a robot called "ROSWITHA" (RObot System WITH Autonomy). Based on state-of-the-art autonomy technology, an interdisciplinary scientific team of the FUTURE AGING Research Centre will devote the next three years to the outer design of the robot, the so-called embodiment.

"Thanks to the support of the Commerzbank Foundation, we will now be able to make decisive progress in the development of ROSWITHA, our university's own assistance robot, and to respond to the constantly growing challenges in nursing care due to demographic change with a solution that is accepted by the target group," says Prof. Dr. Frank E.P. Dievernich, President of the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences (Frankfurt UAS). Kirsten Böddeker, Chairman of the Commerzbank Foundation, added: "With our support, we want to enable scientifically-based product innovation and thus make a contribution to Frankfurt as a location for education and training and thus also to the future viability of our society".

Many people want to stay at home as long as possible in old age or with physical disabilities, but there is already a shortage of nursing staff. In 2017, 2.6 million of the 3.4 million people in need of care in Germany were cared for at home (according to the German Federal Statistical Office, as of April 2019). A current report commissioned by the German Federal Ministry of Health already speaks of a shortage of about 120,000 nursing staff. In the future, assistance robots will be able to supplement nursing services. "It is a matter of supplementing, not replacing, nursing staff," emphasizes project manager Prof. Dr. Barbara Klein, spokeswoman of the FUTURE AGING research center of Frankfurt UAS. "With ROSWITHA, people in need of care can take on more tasks themselves and thus relieve the burden on relatives and care personnel".

The 'technical' design’s aesthetics will now be improved

The university's own assistance robot ROSWITHA can move autonomously in the science department and bring objects with its gripper arm when requested. Further possible fields of application in the future could be, for example, the monitoring of vital parameters (blood pressure, blood sugar, etc.) and communication with physicians or relatives via telepresence circuit as well as leisure activities, for example with brain training programs.

"ROSWITHA is able to move autonomously thanks to comprehensive sensor technology and artificial intelligence and can grip objects such as bottles and drinking cups under camera control using two arms. However, it still looks very 'technical'. In order to be used in elderly and nursing homes, it is, therefore, necessary to improve the design," explains ROSWITHA's developer, Prof. Dr. Peter Nauth, Professor of Computer Engineering and Robotics at the Frankfurt UAS. Now, the aim of the project is to answer the question of what the product design, the external shape, must look like in order to achieve the highest possible acceptance and readiness for use among people so that they would be prepared to use such a robot in their everyday lives.

Exploring the benefits of interdisciplinary cooperation

During the current three-year product development phase, social scientists, product designers, and computer scientists will work on a solution from very different perspectives and will benefit from the contributions that all these disciplines represented at Frankfurt UAS can offer one another. In order to answer the external design question, different embodiments of ROSWITHA will be constructed in the course of the project together with the future users and implemented by means of virtual reality. In two evaluation phases, embodiments will be selected together with future users, created with 3D printing and attached to the robot system ROSWITHA. In a third evaluation phase, these physical shapes are tested by test persons so that a product decision can be made. From this point, it will be clear how ROSWITHA should look like.

The interdisciplinary research project is characterized by the fact that scientists from the "Autonomous Systems and Intelligent Sensor Technology" and "Virtual Reality and Prototyping" laboratories (led by Prof. Dr. Peter Nauth and by Prof. Dr. Héctor Solis respectively) are working together with social scientists at the FUTURE AGING research center at Frankfurt UAS. Around twenty professors from all four faculties at Frankfurt UAS have the opportunity to contribute their experience and expertise to this research center in order to work on user-friendly and socio-technical research & development topics dealing with living and working trends in an aging society.

Innovation-Lab 5.0 as a platform for the development of technology-supported services in the healthcare system

Equally important for the research project is the new Innovation Lab 5.0, which is part of the FUTURE AGING research center. It is a platform for the development of technology-supported services in the healthcare sector such as robotics, sensor technology as well as virtual and augmented reality. Research for an aging society is conducted on an area of around 100m² and solutions are discussed and further developed together with future users, students, and industry partners. To support the project’s goal, the team draws on the experience and expertise in the field of industrial design and engineering available at Frankfurt UAS, in addition to social and nursing science skills.

"The topics of design and product development are brought together under the core aspects of emotional aesthetics, ergonomics, especially user-friendliness and functional safety," explains Prof. Dr. Héctor Solis, Professor of Product Development and Industrial Design. His assistant Dipl. Des. Jessica Sehrt, project engineer at the Design Laboratory for Virtual Reality and Prototyping, adds: "We use VR in our interdisciplinary product development process in order to evaluate the design of ROSWITHA directly with future users in a time-optimizing way. The result is the basis for a first prototype". "Patients’ needs must always be the center of attention and the entire socio-technical context must be taken into account", emphasizes Marina Weiland M.A., a research assistant at the FUTURE AGING research center.

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