Does AI have a role in Eldercare Devices?

John S. Zelek

As humans age, physical, perceptual and cognitive abilities deteriorate outright or fail gradually, thus affecting the quality of life. We offer a third year engineering product design course where the project theme over the past three years has been disabling conditions for the elderly (i.e., healthy aging). The technology-pull theme exposes the students to the process of designing cost effective assistive technology; and shows the important role engineering design has in society to improve the quality of life for all. The methodology adapted for the course is for the project groups to be in constant interaction with the potential user of the resulting technology. The students are required to interact with at least 2 people with the disabling condition during each of the design phases. The project requires for the students to understand the disabling condition, choose a relevant problem associated with the condition, identify the customer needs and map this into product requirements and come up with concepts and prototypes in function and form of a concept that best satisfies the needs. The design phase is broken into 4 or 5 phases where the instructor, teaching assistants and fellow peers review each stage with a class critique. The final results are presented at an exhibit that is open to the public and the users are also invited to attend. The solutions range from the simplistic to the complicated (i.e., requiring AI). What we argue is that this design process is essential before addressing the need for AI for eldercare. There may be a need for AI and there may not be. We illustrate this by selecting four projects from the 2007 course offering, which addressed problems associated with Alzheimer;'s, Parkinson's, falls by people with walkers and independent living for the elderly at home.

Submitted: Aug 18, 2008