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A team led by an Indian-origin researcher has trained a robot to spot the signs of dementia by watching popular British soap opera, Emmerdale, with the hope to help people living with the neurodegenerative condition.
Robbie, developed by researchers at Edge Hill University in the UK, watched over 13 episodes of Emmerdale, featuring the storyline of dementia sufferer Ashley Thomas.
The robot can now spot signs of depression and aggressive behaviour in the hope that robots like him will be able to help people living with the condition, researchers said.
"There are 46.8 million people living with dementia and this is set to rise to 115.4 million in 2050," said Ardhendu Behera, Senior Lecturer at Edge Hill University, who led the project with three students.
"Depression and aggressive behaviour are often the most upsetting and challenging symptoms for those closest to the person living with the condition," Behera said.
Currently, the only ways to monitor and manage dementia is by direct observation which is labour intensive, time-consuming and can be costly from a care perspective, researchers said.
Another way is to use wearable bio-sensing devices, they said.
"Monitoring and recognition is still very much in its infancy and we believe Robbie is the first robot to use vision-based recognition to recognise four behaviours; aggressive, depressive, happy and neutral," Behera said.
The team chose the Emmerdale episodes as the Alzheimer's Society described them as a 'realistic portrayal' of the condition, researchers said.
They broke the 35-minute-long episodes featuring Ashley into 65,082 images, teaching Robbie to recognise facial expressions and body language.
"The aim is for Robbie and robots like him to look for clues as to when the person might be beginning to show aggressive behaviour and perhaps offer a distraction to help them calm down," said third-year-student Zachary Wharton added.
"It might be through playing music or showing a video, talking to them. The potential use of robots is huge as they can not only with the daily routine of a sufferer for friends and family but could potentially intervene in situations to help," Wharton said.
In test situations Robbie was highly accurate at identifying aggressive and depressive behaviour when compared to happy and neutral behaviour.
Ardhendu has presented the research to Alzheimer's Research UK, palliative care organisations, the IEEE -- the world's largest technical professional organisation for advancing technology -- and other universities.
Through previous projects Robbie has already been trained to recognise over 80 common objects, human actions and emotions.
The robot can be used as a companion to the young and old following anything from how many times they have a drink and take medication to how active they are, researchers said.