Robots could be deployed to help people with disabilities to live more independently at home, thanks to a new academic partnership with Scotland’s national centre for respite care.

The National Robotarium, a joint initiative by Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh universities, is working with Leuchie House to develop artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics aids for people with assisted living needs.

According to official figures, one million people in Scotland live with a neurological condition, and 10 per cent are disabled as a result. 

For many, both professional and unpaid carers provide essential support at home to carry out daily tasks and enable access to leisure activities that support wellbeing. However, emerging technologies  have been shown to help return independence.

The partnership, announced on the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities, will see researchers from the National Robotarium’s Assisted Living Lab work in collaboration with guests at Leuchie House to develop advanced technologies that address specific needs.

Robotics and AI technologies will be developed at the National Robotarium to help people with a wide range of assistive needs. For example, to provide support after a stroke and to monitor for deterioration in conditions such as dementia. By combining sensor technology and robotics, data can be collected over longer periods of time, helping to monitor patients and alert carers to when a care package may need to be reviewed.

The National Robotarium, a partnership between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh, is part of the Data-Driven Innovation initiative and is supported by £21 million from the UK Government and £1.4 million from the Scottish Government through the £1.3 billion Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal – a 15 year investment programme jointly funded by both governments and regional partners. 

Professor Lynne Baillie, head of the Assisted Living Lab at the National Robotarium said: “Our partnership with Leuchie House will allow us to work collaboratively with their guests and carers to develop assisted living technology that truly works for users. We will engage directly with individuals to learn more about their unique needs and hear their ideas about how robotic and sensing technologies could provide support. 

“Guests will then be invited to our Assisted Living Lab at the National Robotarium to participate in trials of technologies designed to meet these needs in a realistic home setting.”

UK Government Minister for Scotland Iain Stewart said: “The innovative use of robots in social care has the potential to improve people’s lives and help them to live independently. I welcome the National Robotarium’s partnership with Leuchie House and look forward to seeing its progress.

“The UK Government is investing £21 million in the National Robotarium as part of £1.7 billion for projects to level-up communities in every part of Scotland.”

Leuchie House is a national charity dedicated to supporting people living with the long-term effects of a range of neurological conditions such as MS, Parkinson’s, MND and stroke, through individualised short respite breaks, as well as an essential break for their carers. 

Mark Bevan, CEO at Leuchie House said: “Leuchie House is traditionally known for our class leading residential short breaks and, building from this strength, we have been introducing guests and those who care for them to the benefits of enabling technology, which can restore independence and self-management. Our rooms for example are equipped with voice activated environmental controls, to show our guests the art of the possible.”