University of Illinois tests the future of home life | News from Illinois

By ETHAN SIMMONS, The News-Gazette (Champaign)

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) – As you walk into the shared apartments of the McKechnie LIFE home, you’ll find that the pad is occupied by several domestic, sociable robots.

There’s Stretch, a 51-pound device with a gripper that can slide across the living room floor, pick up items, or even open closets with the direction of a video game controller.

Jibo, the social robot, can turn its head towards you with lifelike curiosity and widen its central eye. Rub his head and he will purr.

Misty II will verbally greet guests crossing the doormat. Students are currently programming the robot, which has facial recognition technology, to have a conversation and issue health care reminders, researchers said.

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It’s neither the set of a near-future science fiction movie, nor an attempted Jetsons remake. The McKechnie Family LIFE Home is an on-campus UI research site for privacy and a testing ground for smart technologies designed to simplify household functions, reports The News-Gazette.

“My main research interests are aging, but the LIFE home in general is intended for everyone who lives in the home environment – older adults, people with families, people with health problems, everyone who is maintaining their physical health and wellbeing”, said its director of the University of Illinois, Professor Wendy Rogers.

“LIFE” stands for “Living in Interactive Future Environments”, which, according to Rogers, is the facility’s unique selling point.

“You can simulate a home environment, people can interact with technology in a real home,” said Rogers. “When you study something in a laboratory, it’s a different experience.”

Students and faculty researchers have already begun testing the applications of home technologies. In the next semester, they will begin to involve live participants.

“One of my students had Jibo in her apartment for a few months, and many months later we took Jibo out of the box and she came in and said, ‘Hello Megan,'” said Rogers. “It remembered her.”

All of the technology was previously brought to market. Stretch is a product made by Hello Robot, with offices in Atlanta and Martinez, California. Jibo began as a crowdfunding technology through Indiegogo, recently revived by NTT Disruption company.

And it’s not just robots. Some technology is more subtle, like the intelligent surfaces and appliances in the kitchen. A command to Amazon’s Alexa can set the oven to the correct temperature and setting.

“We wanted to provide intelligent guidance to people with cognitive problems due to brain injuries. We spoke to these people and tried to understand what problems they were facing while cooking, ”said Harshal Mahajan, LIFE Home’s Assistant Director of Research.

“One of the most common concerns is that they won’t be able to remember whether or not they turned off a device.”

The residents of the LIFE Home can access their intelligent devices from a mobile phone and switch them on and off remotely.

The refrigerator will display a video stream of its interior when closed – you can see all of the ingredients before you open the doors. The touchscreen on its surface digitally records the food and drinks it contains – apps can even create shopping lists or recipes based on the ingredients they contain.

The building’s namesake was deeply impressed by the practical technology and research potential: Jim and Karen McKechnie, both graduates of the 1970 UI class and prominent health science donors to their alma mater.

The couple donated $ 1 million to bring the LIFE Home to life.

“The concept of allowing people to live more independently and productively as they age and to lose some of their skills is what I think is the best part about it,” said Jim McKechnie, an orthopedic surgeon.

He graduated from UI with a degree in chemistry and went to Northwestern to study medicine.

Karen, a graduate of the school’s former College of Physical Education (College of Applied Health Sciences since 2006), also enjoyed some of the ancillary rooms in the home.

“We knew the concept was supposed to be like a real house so that they could research different projects in it and use it as a teaching facility, and I would say it was a very exciting pitch,” said Karen.

Adjacent to the main living area and kitchen is an observation room with a one-way window that allows researchers to accurately assess how residents interact with technology in a homely environment.

The live study is already due for the next semester. In a research project, around 70 participants go through the LIFE Home five days a week and take part in a series of games to measure cognitive well-being, all of which are guided by a virtual voice assistant.

One aspect researchers want to investigate, according to Rogers, is how to properly introduce smart technology into the home environment while understanding privacy and security concerns about technology, especially for older adults.

“The key to any technology introduction is making sure people understand why it might be useful to them and providing instructions on how to use it,” she said. “We get these technologies too often and we don’t know how to use them, and they’re not being marketed to older adults making them think it’s not for them.”

Since the project is still in its infancy – the inauguration took place just two months ago – the LIFE Home has a lot to offer.

Researchers from all disciplines are welcome.

“I would like the LIFE Home to be widely used in all disciplines to support social engagement, healthy living, independence for people with disabilities, support for older adults – the full range of what people want to do in their home Said Roger.

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