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My Adventure with Aldebaran: Project Zora by QBMT

Let’s continue our trip to discover what people are doing with our robots!

QBMT is a small company of 15 people (including 10 developers) fond of SF, especially Star Wars and its droids (R2D2 forever! <3). Several years ago, they fell in love with NAO and decided to use it as a support for solutions to help other people in their life.

Thus was born the solution named ZORA, which stands for: Zorg (Health), Ouderen (Elderly person), Revalidatie (Rehabilitation), Animatie (Animation).

ZORA is also the name of their NAO who is portrayed as a little girl by the company. She is involved in hospital environments, such as retirement homes, to help both the residents and the caregivers.


What is the ZORA solution?

When Zora is introduced in a retirement home, she receives a family name (chosen by the caregivers) and then the adventure starts.

As the robot is used by non-technical people, a simple Wi-Fi connection problem can become very challenging. So QBMT had to find a way to make their applications as easy as possible to use.

The ZORA solution includes two NAO Robots (one stay in stock and is intended to replace the first one in case of technical problems or during maintenance), a tablet, access to the Zora Portal and several applications tailored for the client.

Moreover, they have built a community of people called the “ZORA Ambassadors”. These members are mostly ‘captains of industry’ who believe in bringing robots into everyone’s daily life. Most members are also a godfather of an elderly care house. Bruno Maisonnier, found and CEO of Aldebaran, was recently asked to become member of the ZORA Ambassadors and accepted.

Improving the quality life for residents

One year ago, NAO has been introduced in the first retirement home to demonstrate some exercises to the residents. The goal was to have the residents imitate NAO doing the same movement to help them move and stretch.

The situation was a bit more complicated previously since the caregiver who showed the movements wasn’t able to take a lot of time to help the patients. Now, NAO is leading the show and the caregivers can really be by the resident’s side and help those who need it to do the right movement and so on.

But above all, NAO is more easily accepted as “medical staff”. Indeed, it can be difficult for a resident in a hospital environment to be confident and let these “white dressed people” show and say what to do.

NAO has a good acceptance rate with the elderly people but also with children who are in rehabilitation. The robot is seen as a friendly buddy by the kids who then strive to do the exercises better than him!

Alleviate loneliness

With this great success, more and more caregivers are asking for other behaviors and applications.

The elderly see NAO as a little child and often, when NAO is introduced to them, they take him in their arms like a baby and start to baby him.

One day, during the presentation, one resident named Marcel, began to talk with NAO. Tommy and Fabrice, the founders of QBMT, who were showing NAO answered through the robot to Marcel using Choregraphe. They spoke together nearly 20 minutes. This was awesome because Marcel typically was a withdrawn resident and during these 20 minutes he spoke more than what he had done for 4 years during his life at the retirement home.

After that, QBMT worked to develop an easy to use web based interface named the ZORA portal that allows the final user of NAO to access several key features.

In addition to setting up the language and robot’s speed, the speech feature allows users to enter sentences that are directly spoken by NAO. They can also register the most used sentences to react more quickly during an interaction with the patient.

NAO can also be remotely controlled by the staff; this way he can walk into a room “by itself” instead of being carried in by a caregiver. This way, the resident can naturally discuss with NAO and have the feeling of being “alone” with him. Of course, the whole situation is monitored thanks to video and audio streaming and the caregivers can supervise and interact through NAO.

When an elderly person goes to a retirement house, he/she leaves home and furniture, sometime the people he/she knows, neighbors and so on. They often feel depressed and start to withdraw themselves. NAO helps the caregivers to support them and make them interact in a natural way.

Assist the Caregivers

In a retirement home, there are a lot of “cold tasks”- meaning that there are some duties such as answering to frequent questions of the residents, that take a lot of time and aren’t ‘as important’ as other tasks. So the caregivers often neglect them. For instance, every day, every resident asks (and sometime more than once): ‘what are we eating today?’. The caregivers haven’t enough time to answer to everyone. So, they had the idea of using NAO to do it! The robot stays on a table each morning and tells the daily menu when a resident push one of its foot’s bumpers. The other foot allows the resident to hear the main news of the day.

This simple application makes both the residents and the caregivers very happy. It’s funny for the first viewers and very assistive those who have seen it before.

The caregivers are so satisfied that they are pushing more and more ideas. They have even recorded themselves doing a specific choreography in order to have QBMT’s developers animate NAO in the same way.

Breaking with the daily routine

Since the beginning of his adventure, NAO has evolved a lot. It’s a technology used, in this case, with people who may not have computing skills... And it works rather well!

NAO brings positive reactions and gets people away from their daily routine.

In retirement homes the latest ‘innovations’ are still electrical beds. So when a robot like NAO is brought in these environments, people are really enthusiastic. The employees share a lot of ideas and start to develop new projects while the residents want to try and spend some time with their new friendly robot.

Even visitors, especially kids, are coming more often to visit their grandparents.

To encourage this, some particular animations have been developed and special events are held. For example: NAO is now hosting the weekly bingo. He picks the numbers and even tells jokes.

There are also some deals that have been set up between the retirement home and local schools. The kids can interact with the elderly through NAO in a kind of video-conference.

Today, the ZORA solution, which has initially started in Benelux, is now deployed in 53 retirement homes around Belgium and in the Netherlands. And that is just the beginning as several projects are on their way.

At Aldebaran, we are not only developing an ordinary piece of plastic with a bunch of sensors on it. Together with QBMT we are developing a technology that can help these elderly people today, and will continue to help more and more people tomorrow.


Discover more about the ZORA project on QBMT's website

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