Weihua Sheng

March 2, 2015

Story courtesy of the Stillwater News Press: http://www.stwnewspress.com/robotic-technology-aims-to-assist-elderly/ar...

Weihua Sheng works to create a more advanced intelligence for robot companions

Reminding Grandma to take her pills, monitoring her daily activities and taking care of her needs around the clock without holidays off can be a lot for one person to handle. But would she allow a caregiver with an electronic brain to take on that responsibility?

Two Oklahoma State University researchers are hoping to convince her of new technology.

Weihua Sheng (PhD Elec Egr ’02) and Guoliang Fan were awarded a $725,000 grant by the National Science Foundation in December to help develop robots that will act as companion caregivers.

Sensors on it charge and throughout his or her environment would allow the robots to learn their health needs and daily activities. A built-in microphone and camera would give the robots the ability to map the living space in its memory, hear what’s happening around it and react to emergencies.

Sheng, 43, began working on robots for manufacturing purposes in 2000 while he was studying for his PhD at Michigan State University.

“When I graduated and I entered the university, I started to think about how can we use robots to help people in homes, not just manufacturing settings,” Sheng said. “We explored this idea so we developed what we call home service robots. With this kind of home service robot we can really help people at home.”

OSU has invested $400,000 into the project so far, but data still needs to be studied regarding privacy, software and ultimately testing the robot in an assisted living environment.

Importantly, the current robot prototype is bare bones. It does not have arms, nor a human shape or size. The robot’s intelligence also still needs to improve to fully understand a human’s gestures and interactions.

“If the robot is equipped with this kind of capability I believe the elderly would be more likely to accept this kind of robot in their homes,” Sheng said. “This grant definitely will give us a boost, a big help to deliver the more realistic robot that can really be deployed in the home environment.”

By Merrick Eagleton/OSU Media Group
Posted: Feb. 28, 2015, 10 a.m.