Meet Mr. Bah: the robot that catches Grandma before she falls

This week, researchers unveiled a new robot that can anticipate and capture the elderly before they fall – a potentially big development in caring for the world’s rapidly aging population.

The new device, which looks like a motorized wheelchair, is fitted with guard rails that go up to a person’s hips and equipped with sensors to judge when a person begins to go out of balance. Users attach a harness, and when they begin to tip over, the robot engages it to prevent them from falling.

The machine’s inventors, from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, affectionately called the machine “Mr. Bah,” an alternative to its actual name: a moving robot balance assistant. The researchers said the device still needs regulatory approval in key markets such as the United States, and faces significant funding challenges to get to market, but is targeted to be available within two years.

“Mr. Bah joins a growing number of technology advancements for elderly care, including robots that clean homes and provide companionship and wearable devices that follow key health metrics. The inventors of the robot say their fall prevention robot is a critical advance, especially since falls can It often leads to serious injuries or fatal outcomes.

“[Falls] “It’s a huge problem worldwide,” said Wei Tek Ang, principal investigator on the project and executive director of the Rehabilitation Research Institute of Singapore (RRIS). “The intent… was to help people get around the house without fear of falling.”

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Globally, falls are the second leading cause of unintentional deaths worldwide, according to World Health Organization. In the United States, falls remain the leading cause of injury-related deaths among adults age 65 or older, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data offers.

Ang recognized this problem from his personal experience. “My mother, who is 85 years old, falls a lot,” he said. “After I fell for the first time about 10 years ago, I started thinking about building a robot.”

Ang partnered with researchers at NTU Singapore and Tan Tock Seng Hospital to create and pilot the robot. So far, the device has been tested on only 29 participants. They were patients with strokes, brain injuries, and spinal cord injuries.

During the test, which spanned three days for each participant, the robot helped the elderly sit, stand and walk. The researchers said that no falls were recorded during the experiments. (The results were announce this week.)

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The team’s goal is to gain regulatory approval for the device in key markets around the world, including the United States. They envision releasing two versions of the robot. One of them is a hospital version, equipped with many advanced sensors and cameras that track the movements of elderly people, and could cost about $20,000. The other is a home version, which either has fewer sensors and cameras or uses lower quality hardware, and can fetch anywhere between $3,000 to $4,000.

But the team faces a severe challenge. Ang said they need about $4 million in seed funding just to get the device approved by regulators in places like the United States, Europe, China and Singapore. From there, they would need an additional $10 million to $20 million to bring the device to market. “It’s very difficult here,” he said.

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If this happens, the effects could be significant and represent a way for the robots to improve the lives of the elderly by giving them a sense of independence, the researchers said.

“one of [the] The main strategies are to empower patients, Karen Chua, co-developer of the navigation robot at NTU School of Medicine, said in a statement. “We want to make robotic treatments more sustainable and accessible in the community where our patients can live healthier and happier lives.”

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