Robotic systems to help the elderly at home

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Consequential Robotics, an award-winning University of Sheffield spin-out company, is developing companion and assistive robotic systems that will enhance quality of life as people age.

  • Robots designed to be the eyes, ears and hands of the intelligent house or the smart office
  • Robots behave in a lifelike way and use control systems modelled on the brain
  • Human-centred design focuses on understanding the practical needs of users as well as their emotional wants and dreams
  • Products include a ‘pet’ companion and a smartphone-linked bed-table that can move under its own power

The company, which has won numerous awards and accolades since its launch in 2015, is the brainchild of internationally-acclaimed product designer, Sebastian Conran, and EPSRC-supported researchers, who are building on 20 years’ research at the university into developing robots that behave in a lifelike way and that use control systems modelled on the brain.

Conran, the University of Sheffield’s Designer in Residence, who is supported by an EPSRC Impact Acceleration Account, says: “At the heart of our approach is human-centred design – understanding the practical needs of our users as well as their emotional wants and dreams.”

MiRo (pictured), an emotionally engaging ‘pet’ robot companion, is already on the market as a developer version for researchers, and is designed to make decisions, display emotions and respond to others in a truly unique and autonomous way. MiRo’s character and form have been carefully considered to be friendly and approachable, but not toy-like.

Prototypes under development include IntelliTable, an autonomous assistive over-bed table capable of moving under its own power and which can be voice-activated using a smartphone. The IntelliTable platform is being adapted for hospital rehabilitation therapies with partners including the Sheffield Centre for Assistive Technology and Connected Healthcare.

Professor Tony Prescott, Director of the Sheffield Robotics research institute, who co-founded the company with Conran and Dr Ben Mitchinson, says: “I’m convinced of the value of including design at an early stage in the development of robotic projects.

“Our emphasis is on understanding how people will use robots in their lives at home, at work, and in shared spaces. Robots will be the eyes, ears and hands of the intelligent house or the smart office, designed to work quietly, safely and unobtrusively; complementing and assisting people, not replacing them.”