Robot becomes Emmerdale fan in university dementia project

Robbie the Robot Image copyright Edge Hill University
Image caption The robot analyses facial expressions to identify behaviour and emotion

A university is developing a robot to spot the signs of dementia with the help of TV soap opera Emmerdale.

Researchers at Edge Hill University in Lancashire say Robbie the Robot has learnt to recognise symptoms of the condition by watching episodes of the ITV drama.

The team believes robots could help diagnose dementia within 10 years.

As part of the project, Robbie watched 13 episodes featuring a storyline involving character Ashley Thomas.

The soap was chosen because its portrayal of the condition was praised by the Alzheimer's Society for its realism.

Computer science lecturer Ardhendu Behera said the robot was able to use intelligent algorithms to determine behaviour and emotion from facial expressions and body language.

The team's vision is to develop robots like Robbie to spot symptoms such as depression or aggressive behaviour, before offering calming "distraction" techniques, such as playing music.

Image copyright Edge Hill University
Image caption Dr Ardhendu Behera believes robots using artificial intelligence could one day help diagnose dementia

The machines could also monitor whether people had taken correct medication.

Dr Behera said: "Currently the only way to monitor and manage dementia is by direct observation which is labour intensive, time consuming and can be costly from a care perspective."

Researchers broke down scenes from Emmerdale into 65,082 images to help the robot recognise characters' mannerisms.

Dr Behera said working with West Lancashire Dementia Action Alliance had also helped the team understand more about the condition.

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