Robotics engineers from Trinity College Dublin have unveiled ‘Stevie II’ – Ireland’s first socially assistive robot with advanced artificial intelligence (AI) features – at a special demonstration at Science Gallery Dublin. Stevie II is the successor to Stevie, a prototype assistance robot who took the country by storm in 2017 (see here).

Deployed in long-term care environments

Stevie won thousands of admirers and served as a proof of concept that a socially assistive robot could be deployed in long-term care environments to help seniors and people living with disability. Stevie II, meanwhile, builds on those successes but embodies significant technological upgrades and advanced AI capabilities. Stevie II is considerably more mobile and dextrous, and uses advanced sensing technologies including laser rangefinders, depth cameras, as well as tactile, inertial and vision sensors to interact intelligently with its environment.[embed][/embed] Meanwhile wireless connectivity (wifi, bluetooth and so on) and a series of on-board computers diversify its potential uses. In addition to performing new functional tasks, the robot has been given enhanced expressive capabilities. "We found from interviews and focus groups that seniors enjoyed interacting with Stevie. It being so expressive helped to humanise the technology in a way that surpassed our expectations," said assistant professor in Trinity’s School of Engineering and principal investigator on the project, Dr Conor McGinn. "These insights lead us to believe that a robot like Stevie can have a wide range of high-impact uses, which may involve performing numerous assistive tasks, helping caregivers, and may even provide new interfaces to existing technologies – like video calling, smart sensors, social media – that can be inaccessible to many older adults." The Trinity team consulted with a wide range of experts during the robot’s development, including nurses and caregivers, as well as older adults living at home or in long-term care facilities.

Remain independent and socially connected

Among those partners is ALONE, a national organisation that supports older people to age at home. ALONE currently provides and uses technology to support older people to remain independent and socially connected. CEO of Alone, Seán Moynihan, said: "ALONE has been delighted to partner with Trinity and to see how Stevie has developed since we first met in 2017. Often there is an assumption that older people and technology don’t mix, but the response to Stevie from the older people we work with shows that this is simply not the case. "We hope that innovative solutions like those provided by Stevie and also by ourselves in ALONE through our BConnect technology will be utilised to ensure older people across the country can access the best supports available." The Trinity team has recently partnered with the Army Distaff Foundation, a US-based non-profit organisation that operates Knollwood Retirement Community, and have already begun testing the technology with residents and staff at the facility.

'Significant potential to incorporate technology'

Commenting on the findings of a recent pilot, which took place in February/March this year, associate executive Director, Matt Reilly, said: "The research conducted over the past year with our partners from Trinity College Dublin is very promising, and has significant potential for allowing us to incorporate this technology into our care delivery systems across the continuum of aging. "Whether deployed in independent living, assisted living, or skilled nursing, social assistance robotics platforms such as Stevie, driven by sophisticated AI, become tools that can help our care staff increase their performance and improve care outcomes. We are truly excited to be on the forefront of employing this technology." Over the coming months, the team are planning several more pilots of the technology, including an extended deployment at Knollwood and a trial in the UK, where Stevie will be tested in long-term care facilities in the Cornwall region as part of the European-funded EPIC project. Thanks to continued support from Enterprise Ireland, the team are aiming for the first permanent deployment of the technology to occur some time in 2020.