Health and medicine

Aiding the elderly: The IBM Watson Cube

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Students from Imperial College, London have teamed up with the IBM Hursley Innovation Centre to create a device to assist the elderly at home. It goes by the name ‘The IBM Watson Cube’ and looks a bit like an antique wooden mini TV set, small enough to sit in the palm of your hand. Appearances can be deceiving, however, as this is one seriously smart contraption, complete with voice activation, conversational know-how and real-world knowledge.

Virtual companion, multi-tasker and conversationalist

Built by third-year Electronic Engineering students from Imperial College, London, the voice-operated cube’s purpose is to act the virtual companion to elderly people who are still able to live at home, but need a little support now and then.

On the practical side, the cube can remind its owner of meal and medication times, call or message in case of emergency and give news and weather updates from the BBC. There’s also a ‘Memories’ function to aid those with dementia.

Beyond the merely practical, the cube offers companionship – at least to a rudimentary degree – and is able to hold conversations with its users to determine their interests. It can even recommend podcasts and music that its owner or owners might enjoy listening to, based on what is has learned from chatting to them.

IBM Watson Cube Team

The IBM Watson Cube Team

The personal touch

So far, the cube sounds like a considerate and well-read friend, though I suspect its conversational skills are somewhat limited. It’s a comfortable sort of company to have, and rather adept at the personal touch, thanks to Watson’s visual recognition tools, which make for a more engaging and, dare I say it, ‘real’ experience.

It’s not off-puttingly swanky either – the appearance deliberately steers clear of smooth lines, shiny surfaces and anything that looks like it belongs on the Star Ship Enterprise. Instead, it’s a reassuringly boxy design, easy to handle and a far cry from intimidating-looking cutting edge technology.

It’s still early days for this companionable device, with real-world testing still to come, but the initial results are positive. Time will tell how it will fare with its new users – watch this space for more on this story.

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