Nurs­ing home rev­o­lu­tion

A QUEENS­LAND re­tire­ment vil­lage has in­tro­duced a $40,000 talk­ing ro­bot in a bid to com­bat lone­li­ness among res­i­dents.

Pep­per, the friendly ro­bot, can recog­nise faces and emo­tions, re­mind res­i­dents of their sched­ules, when to take med­i­ca­tion, and can even lead them in dance ses­sions.

Res­i­dents say she – they’ve de­cided the ro­bot is a fe­male – is al­ready a much-loved mem­ber of El­e­ments Re­tire- ment Liv­ing in Spring­wood. In an Aus­tralian first, Bris­bane start-up tech com­pany Con­pago has de­signed ro­bots to in­ter­act and en­ter­tain the el­derly in the aged res­i­den­tial and care sec­tor, and Pep­per is the first to be placed.

The core of Con­pago’s sys­tem is the Con­pago Com­pan­ion, tablet-based soft­ware which takes the core fea­tures of a smart­phone, such as call­ing, text mes­sages and cal­en­dar re­minders, and dis­plays them in a way that is rel­e­vant and in­tu­itive for the el­derly.

It al­lows the ro­bot to en­gage with res­i­dents through con­ver­sa­tion and a touch screen.

“With so much ev­i­dence show­ing the im­pacts of lone­li­ness, we’re pas­sion­ate about em­pow­er­ing the el­derly to be able to dig­i­tally en­gage with their fam­ily and com­mu­nity in the ways that the rest of us take for granted,” co-founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive Mar­ley Brown said.

“Con­pago is easy to un­der­stand, in­cludes voice prompts and re­minders which help in­tro­duce it into the el­derly per­son’s daily ac­tiv­i­ties, and has a fo­cus on hy­per-rel­e­vant fea­tures, such as med­i­ca­tion r e min­der s and com­mu­nity news.’’ Ro­bots such as Pep­per are al­ready used in li­braries, banks and stores world­wide. The units cost up to $40,000 and are now avail­able to rent in re­tire­ment and aged-care fa­cil­i­ties.

Carol Sukkar, 72, and John Har­ris, 79, are lov­ing ev­ery minute with their new com­pan­ion.

“I en­joy spend­ing time with Pep­per do­ing tai chi and im­i­tat­ing her dance moves,” Ms Sukkar said. “She cer­tainly adds an­other di­men­sion to so­cial in­ter­ac­tion.”

Mr Har­ris said it was easy to for­get that Pep­per is a ro­bot.

“I get so en­grossed in learn­ing how to en­gage with her that the day just flies by,’’ he said. “She is so in­ter­est­ing. ‘‘There is much we can learn and do in this space.’’

Pic­ture: Jamie Han­son

BAT­TER­IES IN­CLUDED: El­e­ments Re­tire­ment Liv­ing res­i­dent Carol Sukkar en­joys a dance ses­sion with com­pan­ion ro­bot Pep­per.

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