A Robot To Help People With Learning Disabilities?

October 7, 2018

The world is an ever changing technological place. From smart phones to smart homes, there is always another piece of tech available for all of us to use in our day to day lives. Over the next few months, I plan to explore some of the new inventions becoming available and looking at how these could potentially be used for and with people with learning disabilities. 


In this blog, I’m going to be looking at a small robot called Vector. Vector has been created by the team at Anki, a small company based in San Francisco. Now a lot of you might not have heard of Vector however you might have heard of Anki’s other robot Cozmo. Cozmo has been available to buy in many high street shops, such as Argos, and is classed as a toy robot but with lots of exciting tech features. Now in 2016, when Cozmo was release, I was keen on checking out exactly what the robot was capable of.  Cozmo cost £199 on its release and to be honest, I found it all a little bit gimmicky. Yes it played games and yes its little screen to represent its face gave it personality, but once all the features had be played with, the novelty of it soon wore off and it became another expensive robot toy. One thing I did like about Cozmo was the fact that it could be programmed but even this appeared limited and was more for education rather than true robotics. 





So fast forward to 2018, Vector has now been released. Let's get the cost bit out of the way first; its £250 to buy. Now I’m not going to deny £250 is not a lot of money and I wouldn’t blame you for stopping reading this blog thinking “£250 for a robot! Chris we have much more important things to spend our money on”. However, £250 for a new piece of tech is pretty cheap considering the new flagship iPhones released last month start around the £1000 mark. And before you think it, yes I do think Vector has potentially as much use as a new shiny iPhone (and in theory Vector could make a phone call too).


Ok, enough of me justifying the price of this new tech, let's get to the question why we are all here ‘how can Vector help people with learning disabilities’. Out of the box and in its current form, Vector can’t answer this question just yet. Currently it's able to do various things some of you might have already seen other tech do such as Apple’s Siri or Amazon Alexa. You can say a things such as ‘hey Siri, whats the weather like’ or ‘ Alexa, tell me the weather’ and the devices give you an answer pulling information from its companies servers. Vector does this a little differently as it responds but in a way which gives the information received a little bit of personality. Vector has a small screen at the front of it to display little animated eyes and its also able to move around and use its own little robot-like voice to present the information its own little unique way.  Cute right? 


Have a look at the recent youtube promo video so you can see the little guy in action.



Right so your probably still thinking “£250 for a robot! Chris we have much more important things to spend our money on” but please stick with me. We have just arrived at the most interest part of Vector; it’s ability to be coded to do what the user needs it to do. Now compared to Cozmo, Vector is totally independent from any other tech. It only requires a phone to set it up and it then can operate completely on its own. Cozmo required a constant link to a smart phone to work. Anki have achieved this by basically building the smart phone ‘brain’ into the body of Vector. 


Rather than going into all the technical side of Vector, let's look at some scenarios in which vector could help a person with learning disabilities or in fact any of us. 


Taking medication


Currently there is a lot of technology available to tell someone to take there medication. As I write this blog, it’s 7:45pm. Now I know in 15 mins my phone will buzz and an app called ‘echo’ will send me a push notification to remind me to take my evening medication. Now this is great, however I very rarely pay attention to this notification and just swipe it away. Its not personal and its like every other notification I get on my phone. There’s no human connection its just another piece of information being displayed on my phone screen. Now let's look how vector could display this information. So when 8pm arrives, Vector could receive a notification and could flash its eyes and say “time to take you medication Chris” and using its face detection technology, it could move towards me or maybe move crazily around the table until I pay attention to it. I could even pet it (yes its possible) to thank it for reminding me and it could show emotion to my appreciation. Meanwhile my phone just doesn’t care ( ok I know vector doesn’t actually care either but you get what I’m saying). 


In theory Vector could be programmed to ‘perform’ a full daily time table including times to take medication or when to eat, leave for the bus etc. It allows for the user to have a personal connection with the technology and I think this could really make a difference to some peoples lives. Some of you might think that be-friending a robot to help with day to day living might be a bit strange and if you’ve seen the movie ‘i-robot’ I can totally understand that, but if it gives people more independence, thats surly a good thing, right?


Sending welfare alerts


Another thing vector could potentially do is send alerts if people haven’t been seen for a while. For example, imagine a person lives on their own and for some reason, they can’t get out of bed that morning. Vector constantly looks for recognised faces and it could be programmed to send an alert to a relative or carer, if it hasn’t seen someone between set periods. An added bonus is that the robot doesn’t require anyone to remember to charge it as it goes back automatically to its charging block itself meaning that it’s always ready for action.      


There’s loads of potential for this little robot and its little personality separates it from other smart home tech I’ve seen. Furthermore, it opens up a world of possibilities to help people, not just those with learning disabilities, and it will be interesting to see if Vector is the start of robotics becoming mainstream within people homes. I now just need to get my hands on one and start programming it. 


Maybe you have other idea on how Vector or other robots might help in the work you do with people with learning disabilities and I’d love to hear your suggestions. You can find me on twitter @chrishardyRNLD or post your responses on our facebook page searching for learningdisabiltynurse.com within facebook.  


For more information on Vector and its possibilities visit Anki website by clicking here 




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