The National Science Foundation has awarded a $1.5 million grant to help researchers develop robots that can assist older adults with activities of daily living and other chores.

Naira Hovakimyan, PhD, a mechanical science and engineering professor at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, hopes that the Automation Supporting Prolonged Independent Residence for the Elderly, or ASPIRE, project she is leading will enable this population to live independently for longer and improve their quality of life. “The idea is that if we get technologically equipped houses, people will most likely enjoy their independent life in their home as opposed to going to a nursing home, where things will be overstuffed and understaffed,” she says.

Already today, through a smartphone or a tablet, an older adult may receive a reminder to take medication. In the future, with the push of a button, a miniature drone could fly to a shelf, retrieve the medication and serve it on a mobile ground robot to the person.

Challenges, Hovakimyan says, include making the technology appealing to users who might otherwise be averse to using it, making it small enough to fit into tight spaces, finding a material that is soft and durable, minimizing the noise produced when the technology is used, and ensuring that cameras are panoramic to provide a wide range of vision and improve safety.