Kompai is a robot companion to humans who need one.
Born in a workshop near Biarritz, France, Kompai is the fruit of a European Union project to explore how machines can help the elderly and disabled.
The result is a blend of watchdog, care assistant, and everyday computer.
Vincent Dupourqué, the president of Robosoft, the company behind the venture, explained the idea: “A robot is certainly one of the best answers, the best technological answer to help people who are housebound.”
One of Robosoft’s robotics engineer, Arnaud Lago, gave more details: “It’s a mobile robotic platform which is able to move around an apartment automatically. It is equipped with a laser and distance sensors for navigation and security. There’s a tablet PC with a tactile interface that allows it to interact with the person who’ll be using it, two directional microphones in order to speak to it, and a camera to allow the person to speak to others.”
Kompai should be able to go where you tell him, help with the shopping list and even play games.
He also gives distant relatives the chance to see and hear their loved ones. And that is a key feature for keeping an eye on grandma or grandad.
“Rather than sending a team 50 kms in order to see if the person has really had a fall or whether there’s an error with the sensor, you can take control of the robot remotely and you can tell it to go and look for the person, and thanks to the cameras on board you can see if the person has really had a fall or not,” said Arnaud.
This robot is a prototype, and as Arnaud explains there is room to improve its interaction with humans and their environment.
“The first thing that we want to improve is the obstacle avoidance, so that the robot can be capable of avoiding completely unexpected objects in its path,” he said.
Kompai’s creators argue that the growing number of elderly people in Europe means there is an emerging market for robotic home help.
Not just practical help either, but as Vincent said, also companionship: “Most people find they’re really, really comfortable with the robot. We saw with the first tests with real patients that after a few minutes they forgot it was a machine and talked to him as if he was a person.”