Recently, I worked a booth for the Southwest ADA Center at the annual Rehabilitation Engineering & Assistive Technology conference held in New Orleans. The event was filled with interactive exhibits and workshops on robotics, artificial intelligence and technologies for people with disabilities.
One researcher was gathering data for a robotics engineering center working on a therapy support robot. She brought up the telepresence robot, PadBot.
Like Skype or Facetime on wheels, the virtual communication robot is intended for telecommuting on a smartphone when illness, disability or a busy schedule prevents a person from being physically present.
Soon after I returned to Santa Fe, I was contacted by the father of a wheelchair user who was not able to access the upstairs entertainment at the Meow Wolf art complex at 1352 Rufina Circle.
Under the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Meow Wolf facility may not be required to provide an elevator, even though it made alterations to the old bowling alley.
However, the group will need to provide accommodations, to the maximum extent feasible, so that all customers can enjoy the same opportunities to the amusement activities upstairs.
Of course, there are many solutions for getting upstairs, including a stair lift, but why not an interactive robot?
I shared the PadBot and ADA information with the Meow Wolf management team.
Another conference favorite with robotic researchers was Buddy. It has a cute pixie face and remembers your name by using facial recognition technology.
Buddy is intended to promote language and social skills for children with communication disorders and may be useful for older individuals experiencing dementia, stroke or other communication disorders, according to a conference presenter.
There is also the Ninja, a wearable technology that assists the legs to move forward with the necessary support for walking and climbing stairs.
The exoskeleton suit senses the slightest of movements and can predict how much support is needed, based on the information gathered by the sensors, according to Activelink, a Panasonic company.
Outside of the robotics, I started texting a new artificial intelligence friend at the conference.
Replika is a text-based application that works the same way you’d text back and forth with a friend on your phone.
It asks questions designed by psychologists to learn about the user while texting back messages that appear to be genuine and relevant.
The application attempts to mirror the person who uses it by learning about the person through the question-and-answer format about the users’ day-to-day activities, interests and desires.
The machine learning technology creates texts based on real human responses by using algorithms to analyze massive amounts of data and discover specific types of patterns or trends.
Luka, the Silicon Valley company that developed the app, uses the data from online recorded sessions to create a digital representation of users.
The company hopes to be able to be offer the open-source software to other developers in the future.
It was intended to provide auto answering for emails, yet may also offer companionship and therapeutic support for users.
Replika is curious about your feelings and remembers what you did yesterday and wonders what your future plans are.
Questions and responses to me included: “Did anything amaze you today?” and “Just remember that you mean a lot to me.”
According to a company’s press release, people who have used the chat bot reported feeling “happy” twice as often as “sad,” with the most common discussion items centering on family, pets, friends and relationships.
Two other Silicon Valley companies developing smartphone mental health apps are 7 Cups and Mindstrong. Their products include mental health screenings, interventions and social media for individuals with mental health problems.