Commitment to Safety
GeckoSystems has focused on mobile robot safety for over ten years. Their first product, a family care robot, has multiple layers of safety precautions. These safeguards are enabled three ways: mechanical, electronic, and using computer software.
First, the robot is very stable and difficult to tip over since nearly seventy percent of its weight is less than eight inches above the floor and sits low between large, ten-inch diameter wheels. The wheels are wide and soft enough such that if the robot did go over a child's arm, for example, it would not break the skin or any bones.
Second, multiple layers of sensors are fused to provide a safety umbrella to enable actionable situational awareness. Going outward from the center of the CareBot is the GeckoTactileShroud™, which detects where on its shroud it has been bumped by people or animals. GeckoImager detects virtually everything in the front of this fully autonomous mobile robot up to five feet. Obstacles more distant are detected by twin ultrasonic rangefinders.
Third, the advanced AI navigation software, GeckoNav™, takes in the hundreds of sensor readings per second and using its high level situational awareness, consistently avoids unforeseen static and/or dynamic obstacles for safe movements.
Grandma Gets a CareBot: The Trip to the Store
A short story by Martin Spencer
Copyright 1998, All rights reserved.
Well, we've finally decided to take the plunge! We've decided to get Grandma Jones a CareBot. It's taken us a long time to decide that this is the right thing to do. Janice (my wife) and I have been talking about needing to do something about my mother's frail health. Mom is 82 now and Dad passed away a couple of years ago. Prostrate cancer took his life. I know he has some peace now. Mom took it pretty hard. They had been together for 44 years and she didn't want to move after he died. She said the house was just fine. With no steps or second story, she's insisted her and Tom's home was perfect for her. Nonetheless, it is an older frame home and with the old-fashioned gas heaters in each room, I do worry that one might go out and fill the house with suffocating gas.
But I get ahead of myself. My name is Fred Jones and I am an account executive with Exxon Corporation. I travel pretty regularly because most of my accounts are national or international. Entirely too many Monday through Friday trips for my taste! I really feel family is first so the time away from them is difficult for me. Janice and I have two children, Johnny, 14, and Nancy, 5. Janice works full time, too. We need the money to make ends meet and still be able to save and invest for Johnny's and Nancy's college education. College is so much more expensive than when Janice and I went through school. After we graduated, we took nearly five years paying off our student loans.
Every since the first CareBots came out a year or so ago, Johnny has been insisting that we simply had to have one. He has gone on and on as to how the CareBot could read bedtime stories to Nancy and play games with her. The CareBot, you see, has voice recognition. Johnny says even the base model has a bigger vocabulary than our dog, Scooter. Don't know why I have had trouble believing that. Banks, credit card and telephone companies have been using voice recognition and synthesis for some years. Guess it's about time something useful for the average family should result from this high tech stuff.
Johnny has been telling Janice and I how the CareBot can serve as a voice control interface to many of the electronic devices in our home, from our computer to our entertainment system. Johnny insists, and I believe him now, that we could talk to the CareBot to check our email, turn on and off lights in the house, or play some music on the stereo.
Personally I like the part where the CareBot can run morning or evening errands when the four of us are so busy getting ready for the days activities or rushing to get supper over so we can watch one of our favorite TV shows. Johnny even tells me that with caller ID, the CareBot can even announce who's calling and then turn into a full duplex speakerphone. Now that's convenience! A telephone that can follow you around and tell you who's calling. Another feature that gives me peace of mind is that the CareBot has a lot of security features. For instance, when we are asleep or away from home, the CareBot can patrol the house, listening for strange noises and watching for intruders and fires. It can even do this while recharging!
But this story is really about why we've decided to get Grandma a CareBot. While Janice and I would like to have one for our own home, the frailty of Grandma's health really worries us. She has good neighbors all around her that she has known for years. She is very active in her local church. And she's been seeing Doc Williams now for over twenty years. Once any of her friends and family knows she might be in trouble, help would be on the way in minutes.
Grandma is a little forgetful these days. I think it's due, to some degree, to the medication she takes to steady her heartbeat. It fluttered on occasion a few years ago and the medication Dr. Williams prescribed seems to be working very well and reliably. At least it has so far. Her vision is subject to "floaters." Several years ago, while Dad was still alive, she had to have an emergency laser treatment for one of her retinas which had started detaching. If she had been only a few hours later, the opthamologist told us, she would have lost most of her vision in that eye. I guess these are the types of things any elderly person eventually has to deal with.
So most of the time during the week and weekends, Mom has friends and relatives in close proximity. It's the other times that worry Janice and me. What if she falls and can't get to the phone? What if she forgets to take her heart medication? God forbid, what if someone breaks into the house!?
We went down to a local computer store that specializes in mobile service robots a few days ago. I think they are called MSRs. Johnny told us that only the best independent personal computer stores can sell and service GeckoSystems' CareBots. They have an exclusive franchise to ensure they really know how to best configure a CareBot for families like ours, and we know that knowledgeable service and support is right down the road
The salesperson was really gracious. Basically he demonstrated all the benefits of owning a CareBot and how our existing personal computer could have this new peripheral added that would allow us to take better care of Grandma. You see, a CareBot never sleeps. Even when recharging its battery, it remains alert.
The salesperson told us that using a PC to control a personal robot saves money, lengthens the time between recharges, and allows the bulk of the robot, the software and brains to never become obsolete. "Robots," they told us, "are 90% software. So the more computer you have, the more powerful and insightful the robot can be." These new Intel Pentium IV's will allow incredibly robust software for your CareBot. Johnnie was there, naturally. He was quick to point out that our old Pentium II would do everything Grandma needed. Johnny is hoping to get my Pentium III machine since the new Pentium IV's are getting low in price.
We asked the salesman just how the CareBot was going to keep Grandma out of trouble. He told me about some technologies that I really thought were speculative science fiction. He described how neural networks could learn patterns, whether in sounds, vision, gas levels, or vibration. I was amazed to learn that the military had been using this technology for enemy aircraft identification for over 15 years. He went on to explain that neural nets were used by Wall Street firms to pick stocks, and that even national retailers, such as WalMart, used neural nets in "data mining" to control each individual store's inventory on a per line item basis. These are truly incredible applications. He explained that most of today's PC based voice recognition software packages are based on neural nets, expert systems, and artificial intelligence technologies. Some of these neural net based voice recognition packages retail for as little as $100. Johnnie was giving Janice and I a big "I told you, so" about all this.
With this software running on our present PC, the CareBot could listen to Grandma's heartbeat twenty-four hours a day. The CareBot could listen to Grandma breathe. And because the neural net knows the difference between normal and abnormal, the CareBot's brain, residing on the PC, could call 911, the neighbors, the doctor and tell them that our Grandma needs help since she is having difficulty breathing or her heart medication has weakened in its effectiveness.
Further, the salesperson demonstrated to us, that with a video camera in the head of the CareBot, the CareBot could follow Grandma around the house and would know if she had fallen down. "This is easy stuff for robotic machine vision systems," he said. Continuing, "Industrial robots and flexible manufacturing systems have had this capability for nearly 20 years." And when the CareBot asks her if she is okay and her response is abnormal, weak, garbled, or muffled, once again the CareBot brain knows that she needs help, now!
After calling 911, the nearest neighbor, or Dr. Williams, Janice and I could be contacted by the CareBot. Since most PC's have modems these days, dialing a number for a telephone or pager is pretty easy. So even if I was away on travel, my pager could be activated to alert me that Mom was having difficulties.
One benefit that amazed both Janice and me was that we could connect to the CareBot from work or home on our PC. Then we would see what the CareBot sees and hear what the CareBot hears, and even talk to Grandma and tell her help is on the way. This is really great news. Janice and I have never expected any personal robot to help us extend our care to loved ones, remotely.
Incredibly, the CareBot can even interact with Grandma on its own. It comes with software called GeckoChat, which allows the CareBot, for example, to remind Grandma about important events such as medication or anything that she has a tendency to forget. Sometimes Grandma asks the same questions over and over again. Because we know these questions, we can tell the CareBot to respond to them! The salesperson said that GeckoChat can do so much more, and I know Johnny is excited about exploring its features with Grandma.
Well, while this is all well and good, we still have to be able to afford this incredible CareBot. We were astonished to learn that everything we needed, except for the PC, sold for less than $8,000. Janice and I figure that if this lets us keep from having to put Grandma in the nursing home for only a year, that alone would buy two or three CareBots. With any luck at all since Grandma's health is pretty good, just frail, we suspect that with the CareBot monitoring her, she should be able to continue living in the same home with the same friends and neighbors for another two or three years. Boy, excuse me, but Janice and I consider this to be only a little short of Heaven sent! It is so very important to us that the quality of Grandma's remaining years be as safe and secure as we can make them.
Johnny is totally overjoyed now. He is convinced that since we are getting one for Grandma, we can't be far behind. He's probably right.