RITA the caring robot

RITA is a digital robot – an avatar that appears on a phone or tablet screen and can interact with older people to cater for their needs. RITA, which stands for Responsive Interactive Advocate, harnesses emerging technologies from the entertainment industry, including voice recognition and facial recognition software, to innovate future models of personalised care. Our team came up with RITA in response to a call from Innovate UK, which asked scientists to come up with practical solutions to the issue of the ageing population and the rising tide of dementia. The fact is that we are rapidly becoming a society where there are more elderly people and fewer people of working age to look after them and provide regular companionship.

The fact is that we are rapidly becoming a society where there are more elderly people and fewer people of working age to look after them and provide regular companionship.

Before we even started on our prototype, we sat down with many people including carers and older people who were in the early stages of dementia and asked, if you couldn’t have a human carer, what would be the next best thing? The answer we got was that people would like a more personal digital carer who could act as an advocate for them, with a human-like interface and a natural way of speaking. In fact, bearing in mind the demographic of our interviewees, we modelled RITA on a young 30-something woman with a Scottish accent, but RITA can be customised to any gender, cultural background or speaking voice.

RITA is also able to learn about her client and what they like including favourite music, food and family relationships. She can become a repository of personal information, including birthdays and anniversaries and react accordingly. The heart of RITA is her ability to read facial expression, using cameras, and decode tones of voice so she can respond appropriately. So when she is asked to ‘wake up RITA!’ she might respond differently to the greeting depending on whether her client sounds sad, or bright and breezy.

RITA is not designed to replace human carers, but she should be able to help fill in the gaps in social and practical care. She should be able to act as a guardian, and alert emergency services or health care professionals if her client has a fall or presses a panic button.

RITA is not designed to replace human carers, but she should be able to help fill in the gaps in social and practical care. She should be able to act as a guardian, and alert emergency services or health care professionals if her client has a fall or presses a panic button.

Even helping to remind people when to take their pills can really help someone who is getting a little forgetful and confused. But over and above that, RITA will hopefully be a dynamic partner who will help to engage and stimulate her clients, helping them to stave off the effects of dementia which can accelerate due to isolation and loneliness.
We have only proved the concept and it will take many more years of development before RITA is available to users in their homes. The key thing is that she will be voice activated so simple to use, and able to make conversation and improve quality of life for elderly people who won’t always be able to rely on a real-life human being.

Dr Wendy Powell will be speaking at the upcoming Royal Society of Medicine meeting, ‘Robocare’: the ethical and practical issues of using robots in caregiving on Monday 4th December.

Dr Wendy Powell

Dr Wendy Powell

Dr Wendy Powell is a Reader in Virtual Reality (VR) at the University of Portsmouth and an expert in the engineering of virtual reality systems, with 12 years experience in creating and studying virtual environments and interactive applications. She has a particular interest in healthcare applications of VR.She directs the Virtual Interactions and Applications (VIA) Research Group at the University of Portsmouth and is also Deputy Director of the Centre for Health Modelling and Informatics. Dr Powellis a VR Technical Expert for, and Senior Member of, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
Dr Wendy Powell

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R.Ross
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Nothing demonstrates what is wrong with modern medicine more than this. If a medical system can believe that robots are a viable alternative to human beings then the system is deeply, profoundly flawed. In a healing process no machine can ever replace a human and so the introduction of machines simply means modern Allopathic medicine is more interested in profit than healing. Watch the already shockingly high kill and injure rate rise.

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