Smart Bathrooms

24 02 2007

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The London Free Press reports on the use of artificial-intelligence programming to create assisted-living functionality in the homes of the elderly. The goal is to keep them in their own houses as long as possible. The LFP writes:

Researchers at the Toronto Rehab Institute are working on artificial intelligence systems — including a “smart bathroom” — that they hope will one day help people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia live more independent lives in their own homes. “Often when a person gets moderate to severe levels of impairment, they are taken out of their home and put into a care facility,” said lead researcher Dr. Alex Mihailidis, a mechanical and biomedical engineer at Toronto Rehab. “We are using artificial intelligence to support aging-in-place so that people can remain in their homes for as long as possible.”

Mihailidis and his team have developed a prototype interactive “talking bathroom,” which assists people with dementia through the process of handwashing by giving them verbal and visual cues if they become confused about the correct sequence of steps.

Over the sink, a video screen shows the identical setup the person sees in front of them: the counter with the sink and taps, a soap dispenser and a towel. Two arms shown in the video are ready to make the motions needed to wash hands.

A camera in the ceiling tracks the movements of a person with dementia as he or she goes through the handwashing process, then the computerized system provides verbal prompts if the person becomes confused about the correct steps.

Ray Bradbury predicted the “smart house” in 1950 in The Martian Chronicles, in his haunting story of a suburban home that continued to cajole, sing to, and reach out to inhabitants after they had been killed in a nuclear war.

Let’s hope for a happier ending to the story of the “smart bathroom.”

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