Patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases, such as Dementia and Alzheimer’s, often withdraw from their surroundings. They feel isolated and separate from the rest of the world. Research has shown, that animals can help patients cope with their symptoms, improving the their quality of life. The issue here is, that patients can’t necessarily take care of animals and could potentially harm them. Therefore, there is a need for a durable, robotic, and comforting product for patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases.
Ollie, needs to be a subtly intelligent robot that looks nothing like a robot. It’s form factor needs to be familiar and inviting. Visual and audio responses are a must. Research has also shown that “purring” as well as blinking are comforting factors. Ollie must also be able to survive a large fall, as it could be dropped.
Fitting so many components into a single unit proved to be a bit challenging. Ollie needed to take in different cues, interpret them correctly, and then respond in a variety of ways. Another challenge was staying out of the Uncanny Valley, a zone where robots are disturbing because they are lifelike, but not lifelike enough.
We were able to create an alpha prototype that would respond to touch by either purring, moving it’s extremities, or making sound. Blinking was incorporated as well to provide a life-like feel while the furry, animal form factor helped keep Ollie out of Uncanny valley. Soft robotic structures were built to prevent damage, while core electronics and actuators were protected with foam padding.