© Fraunhofer IDMT/Markus Hibbeler
How computers learn to hear
Interview with Stefan Goetze
Robots that help older people in everyday life are no longer something from a science fiction film. The communication assistant “ALIAS” (Adaptable Ambient Living Assistant) is designed to help older people to live independently at home and to maintain their social contacts.
The one-and-a-half meter tall, cone-shaped robot with rolling eyes is equipped with a touch-sensitive display screen and offers an internet browser as well as video telephony via Skype in addition to entertainment media such as games and audio books. ALIAS can be operated via a simple screen menu or by using voice commands. For example, the request “Call my daughter” is sufficient and ALIAS will then set up a call via Skype. Emergency calls can also be made with ALIAS. The robot makes a telephone call to an emergency call center and allows the care personnel to control it remotely in the home in order to see via the camera system where the user currently is and in what condition. In future, it is planned that the robot will additionally recognize calls for help, whimpering or falls and will then automatically call the care provider in critical situations.
Older people, relatives and care providers were included in the development process of ALIAS right from the start. This was important because, alongside technical feasibility, the crucial questions include what tasks the robot is suitable for and how it must be designed so that it will be accepted by older people.
As part of the transnational Ambient Assisted Living Joint Programme (AAL-JP), the EU project ALIAS was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the state agency for funding research projects in France (ANR) and the Austrian Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT) in the period from February 2011 to June 2013. The project partners included the Technical University of Munich as coordinator together with the cluster of excellence Cognition for Technical Systems (CoTeSys), the research organizations Eurecom, the Technical University of Ilmenau and the Division for Hearing, Speech and Audio Technology of the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology IDMT, the companies Cognesys, Guger Technologies, MetraLabs and Youse as well as the end user organization PME Familienservice.