SINGAPORE: Much like how personal computers transformed the way people saw and used technology, Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Programme Office Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said the personal, general-purpose robots would revolutionise the way such technologies feature in people's lives.
He was speaking on Friday (Feb 10), at the opening panel discussion of this year’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Hacking Medicine – a weekend-long hackathon aimed at finding solutions to improve healthcare and eldercare through the use of personal robotics.
"This revolution of the personal general-purpose robot - capable of sensing, processing and doing things, would be even bigger than the revolution that was brought about in the last 30 years by the personal computer,” said Dr Balakrishnan, to an audience of around 160 participants including engineers, clinicians, designers, developers, researchers and business people.
“We want Singapore to be one of these nodes where new ideas, crazy ideas, will change the world. Will liberate human beings from the burdens of age. Will help us remain masters of our lives and still retain our humanity, still retain our connections with other human beings and make life better.”
Participants will develop software and hardware applications on Loomo – a Segway robotic platform, in focus areas of mental health, rehabilitation and recovery, community care or long-term care. These would allow the robots to become robot assistants capable of understanding and engaging with elderly, as well as patients with conditions such as Alzheimer's and others. Participants may also define a suitable challenge statement based around the theme of “Social Robotics for Eldercare”.
Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Programme Office Dr Vivian Balakrishnan speaking during a panel discussion. (Photo: Loke Kok Fai)
Dr Balakrishnan reminded participants that such solutions had to address real human needs and remain safer than existing technology or treatments. They also had to be more cost effective and financially accessible to all, while remaining acceptable and resonate with human beings on a psychological and emotional level.
“When you’re dealing with physical devices capable of sensing and responding in a very sophisticated way, that whole usability and human-robot interface is going to be a very rich field for research and development,” said Dr Balakrishnan.
Winners of the hackathon will be announced on Sunday, with a top prize of US$5,000. Their projects will also be featured on a panel at EmTech Asia on Feb 15, while selected teams will be supported by agencies such as government-owned private innovation entity SGInnovate to further refine and scale-up solutions.
“At the end of that we’ll put some money behind those with real potential, because we’d also like to build not only for Singapore, but for other countries as well,” said SGInnovate’s Founding CEO Steve Leonard.
“Healthcare is a really big challenge for us. And we think about providing care for people in that age – they need more help physically, they need more help mentally, and that’s why we think this robotics platform allows us to find new ways to provide that care. Again, the key is how do we keep people living independently as long as we can.”