Rah-rah for elderly in rehabilitation with this pet robot dog

The Therapeutic Pet Robot SParkle, is a pet robot dog which can move and bark as it spurs on seniors doing their therapy exercises. PHOTO: SINGAPORE POLYTECHNIC

SINGAPORE - It is a pet robot dog which can move and bark as it spurs on seniors doing their therapy exercises. It is also part of a system which allows caregivers and therapists to monitor the seniors' exercise data over the cloud.

The project by Singapore Polytechnic (SP) beat 15 others to bag the top prize in the technology category at this year's National Assistive and Rehabilitation Technology Student Innovation Challenge.

Ms Gina Teh, 20, one of four SP students involved in the project who have all since graduated, said: "We wanted to create a new platform to reduce the monotony of rehabilitation exercises, as the activities in our project can be customised for each user. This would encourage the elderly to keep going in their rehabilitation journey."

The pet robot dog, which comes in the form of a soft toy and is fashioned after a beagle, is at the heart of the integrated system known as SParkle.

A smart dumbbell, smart glove and gamebox are linked to the pet robot by a processor. Data from the three accessories is saved onto a cloud system and can be accessed remotely via the SParkle Android app.

The competition, which is in its 10th iteration, was organised by the Rehabilitation Research Institute of Singapore (RRIS), a collaboration between Nanyang Technological University, the Agency for Science, Technology and Research and National Healthcare Group.

It provides a platform for students from institutes of higher learning (IHLs) to develop creative solutions to improve the quality of life for the elderly and people with disabilities, and to improve the professional quality of rehabilitation and assistive technology.

Associate Professor Jawn Lim of the Singapore Institute of Technology, who is chief judge for this year's competition, said that the pet robot best understood the needs of the caregivers and the elderly.

He said: "The habit-altering toy can empathise with the pain and boredom of rehabilitative therapy, creating long-term interactions that continually motivate seniors to persist in their therapy exercises, while relieving the burden on caregivers by monitoring the senior's progress on the therapy."

A total of 28 entries across the technology and design categories were received for the competition from IHLs such as polytechnics, universities and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

At a ceremony on Wednesday (July 20) held at the Nanyang Technological University's Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine's Novena campus, a team from ITE College Central snagged the top prize in the design category for their Go-Kart Walker design, beating 11 other entries.

The two winners and four other prize winners in the competition will be representing Singapore virtually in the Global Student Innovation Challenge at the International Convention on Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology to be held in Hong Kong on Aug 26.

Also in the winning SP team are Dr Jaichandar K. S., 50, and SP graduates Loo Si Hui, 21, Amirah Sabrina Ahmad Ghozali, 20, and Kang Yi Jin, 20.

Associate Professor Ang Wei Tech, who is executive director of RRIS, said the competition seeks to show students that they can make a difference to the lives of the elderly and persons with disabilities through innovative devices.

"You may think that you have not helped much, but in fact you have made a huge difference in someone’s life," said Assoc Prof Ang.

(From left) Dr Jaichandar K S, Professor Ang Wei Tech, with students Gina Teh and Loo Si Hui. PHOTO: NTU, RRIS

A prototype of the pet robot was tested at the Lions Befrienders senior activity centre in Ghim Moh from 2017 to 2018, with the team recording increased muscle activity among participants, a key sign of engagement.

Dr Jaichandar, a specialist in biomedical engineering at SP, said the team is working on improving the response time of the pet robot, and hope to develop more prototypes to be rented to other senior activity centres.

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