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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Chatting With Ludwig

"How people construct sentences, what words they choose to use, and even very microscopic fluctuations in their voice are very indicative of changes to their cognition."
"It [robot attendant] waits for you to talk, and when it figures out you've stopped talking, it sends the audio to speech-recognition [technology]."
"There's a very clear link between someone's expressive ability with language and the progress of Alzheimer's disease, generally. People who work with individuals with Alzheimer's disease ... could use a little bit of extra help, which is what we're trying to build."
Dr. Frank Rudzicz, assistant professor, University of Toronto/scientist, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute
Ernest Doroszuk/Postmedia Network
Ernest Doroszuk/Postmedia Network   Dr. Frank Rudzicz with Ludwig.
"Based on [Ludwig's] analysis, we can tailor-make and customize the care the individual receives."
Isaac Weinroth, executive director, One Kenton Place, Toronto long-term care residence
According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, 564,000 Canadians live with some form of dementia. This is a figure that will likely rise to 837,000 people afflicted with Alzheimer's or other dementia within the next fifteen years. The society states that after age 65 the chance of an individual suffering from dementia doubles every five years. Memory is the first function to begin to lapse, and after that, verbal language skills.

Dr. Rudzica felt it was time to use his skills in medical engineering and computing to produce a specialty robot whose intervention and usefulness would be invaluable to Alzheimer's care-givers. Five years ago he built a robot almost life-sized with a white case, in appearance resembling an early version of the beloved iPod. This robot was geared to following dementia and Alzheimer's patients in their homes, instructing them in basic tasks.

That robot's programming lacked the capacity to listen to the patients and interpret what they had to say. So he launched into the production of a follow-up robot, reducing the original five-foot size to only two feet, and named it Ludwig, in memory of Ludwig Wittgenstein the Austrian-British philosopher whose special interest was language and the meaning of words.

Ludwig is a new innovation to help in the care of the cognitively impaired. He resembles the physical characteristics of a boy with a high-pitched 'voice', wearing brown, unruly hair. And he is programmed to speak and interact with dementia patients, to ask them leading questions, and then 'consider' their responses, whereupon reports are provided to caregivers.

Ludwig is set to be involved in a practical trial test of its capabilities at One Kenton Place in Toronto.
As the robot stands before a patient, a picture appears on a screen, asking the patient to describe what it is they see before them. Ludwig notes his interpretation of the patient's response; whether they are conversationally engaged, seem happy or anxious, and how they're behaving in comparison to previous similar exchanges.

There are three components whose use is the recording of audio and video resulting from conversations. Ludwig has microphones in his ears, a camera in his eyes, and a sensor in his feet. The patient's gaze is tracked as well as body movement, vocal intonation and word choice. This interchange gives Ludwig the opportunity to assess the cognitive health of a patient.

The potential inherent in this little robot's functioning was a year's investment in planning and construction, all achieved at a building cost of $3,000 to produce Ludwig.

Laura Pedersen/National Post
Laura Pedersen/National Post   Elizabeth Graner, a resident of long-term care home One Kenton Place, talks to Ludwig the robot.
Ludwig's home for the near future and some time after that will be in a common room at the Toronto care residence, where a television, card tables and other socializing apparatuses function to engage the residence's patients. He can be approached by residents on their own initiative to engage with him in casual conversational exchange.

Dr. Rudzicz plans to refine the technical capacity of the robot. To program it more precisely on how it will choose to respond to a patient's answer, to ensure that its assessment of the condition of the patient accurately reflects reality, before it reports back to staff who care for the patients. And bureaucratic regulatory considerations must also be addressed; whether to classify Ludwig as a medical device.

The robot is clearly not a game, but a device with a defined and critical purpose as an aid to caring for cerebrally-impaired patients. A device that is meant to change the game of looking after the needs of such patients.

Laura Pedersen/National Post
Laura Pedersen/National Post    One Kenton Place resident Florence Sherman chats with Ludwig.

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