Meet a robot offering care and companionship to seniors

JUDY WOODRUFF: A Northern Virginia startup
company is using new technology, and a sense of humor, to care for the elderly. The “NewsHour”‘s Teresa Carey went to Fairfax,
Virginia, to meet RUDY the robot. TERESA CAREY: Olga Robertson has lived in
her house for 57 years. With a large Italian family, including two
daughters and grandkids, Robertson’s home has a lot of memories. OLGA ROBERTSON, Virginia: I’m here by myself
most of the time, but I feel comfortable here. That’s why I don’t want to go into a home
or anything. TERESA CAREY: But despite being a spry 88-year-old,
Robertson has an in-home caregiver who visits every day. OLGA ROBERTSON: She helps me do a lot of things. She will take me places, like to my doctor’s
appointments. She even does word puzzles with me. TERESA CAREY: In March, to supplement her
home care assistant, Robertson was given the opportunity to try RUDY, a robot designed
by Anthony Nunez, CEO and founder of INF Robotics, a Northern Virginia start-up. Nunez hopes RUDY will help prolong seniors’
independence. He built in features where caregivers, emergency
responders, or family can check in remotely through a Skype-like interface, and steer
RUDY through the home in search for the senior. And, as with any technology, there is a learning
curve. Nunez created RUDY because of what he witnessed
growing up. ANTHONY NUNEZ, CEO, INF Robotics: My grandmother
fell down when she lived alone up in Rhode Island and ended up losing her independence. She ended up moving into my home. And, as a teenager, I watched my mom take
care of her. And I kind of saw both sides of it at an early
age. I wanted to do something about it, because
I know that situation is not uncommon. TERESA CAREY: But Nunez and his creation RUDY
have a sense of humor. RUDY can tell jokes. ROBOT VOICE: My first job was looking at an
orange juice factory, but I got canned. TERESA CAREY: Play games, and even dance the
Jitterbug. But for Robertson, the best feature is companionship. OLGA ROBERTSON: You can talk to him all day,
and he responds to you. It was good to have somebody to have a conversation
with. Let’s put it that way. TERESA CAREY: A Brigham Young University study
showed that when it comes to the impact on lifespan, loneliness is equal to smoking 15
cigarettes a day. Other robots, such as PARO robot pets, or
ElliQ, are similar to RUDY, providing companionship or relaying information between seniors and
their caregivers. Cliff Glier, CEO of SenCura, a non-medical
home care agency, is one of the early adopters of RUDY. CLIFF GLIER, CEO, SenCura: older adults that
live alone, having a robot overnight is less expensive than having a real caregiver stay
awake and sit by their bedside. TERESA CAREY: At $100 per day, Glier offers
RUDY in conjunction with his home care services, using RUDY to check in on seniors through
video chat. CLIFF GLIER: We here at the office will check
in to the home up to three times a day, and more if need, check in to make sure everything
is OK. Have you taken your medications? Have you gotten up and walked around? ROBOT VOICE: Oh, you look nice today. OLGA ROBERTSON: Do I? Thanks. CLIFF GLIER: We’re checking in without having
to drive over and send a caregiver in to ask those basic questions. TERESA CAREY: Some evidence suggests that
nothing replaces the human touch, but because recent generations are having fewer children,
there could be a shortage of people who will be available to care for the growing senior
population. With four prototypes in use in the Washington,
D.C. area, and more on back order in New York, San Diego and Boston, RUDY is an example of
how robots could become a part of caring for seniors. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Teresa Carey in
Fairfax, Virginia.

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