TU Ilmenau: Using Augmented Reality and Robotics to strengthen social contacts of older people

In a research project that has just been approved, the Technical University of Ilmenau will develop state-of-the-art methods to enable elderly people to have contact with familiar people in their home environment who are far away from home. These people - relatives or friends, but also medical or nursing staff - will be "projected" into the environment using novel technical methods as if they were there themselves. The project is being funded by the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung with up to 4.5 million euros over the next five years.

Older people in particular often find it difficult to maintain regular social contacts. After working life, contacts with colleagues break off, children and relatives live far away and for health reasons it becomes more difficult to visit other people. In addition, the corona pandemic is currently also restricting the opportunities for older people to maintain contact with relatives and acquaintances. In the research project CO-HUMANICS ("Co-Presence of Humans and Interactive Companions for Seniors"), an interdisciplinary research team from the Technical University of Ilmenau and the Thuringian Center for Learning Systems and Robotics will develop technical solutions from 2021 to integrate people who are far away into their home environment as if they were there themselves. Alexander Raake, Professor of Audiovisual Technology at TU Ilmenau, is the spokesman of the research team.

On the basis of augmented reality technologies, the team is developing innovative communication channels with which the "switched-on" persons appear to the elderly people as realistic representations much more present than is the case with conventional telephone or video calls. For example, they can turn to their conversation partners if they are represented in the appropriate spatial manner. The so-called co-presence is not intended as a substitute for interpersonal contact, but rather to promote and improve existing ties to familiar people over distances.

In addition to the new augmented reality technologies, the CO-HUMANICS project also wants to develop technical assistance systems for elderly people that help them to communicate with relatives or medical care personnel at a distance and receive assistance. These robots would be able, for example, to provide concrete assistance in operating technical devices or to put a conversation partner in an optimal position for talking to the senior citizen. With the help of both systems - augmented reality and robotics - elderly people can communicate with people close to them in their home environment and receive support in everyday activities.

The following areas of expertise are involved:

  • Audiovisual Technology (AVT), Prof. Raake, Fac. EI (speaker)
  • Electronic Media Technology (EMT), Prof. Brandenburg/Dr. Werner and successor, Department EI
  • Virtual Worlds and Digital Games (VWDS), Prof. Broll, Fak. WORLD CUP
  • Media Psychology and Media Conception (MPMK), Prof. Döring, Fac. WM
  • Neuroinformatics and Cognitive Robotics (NEUROB), Prof. Groß, Fac. IA
  • In addition, the University Computer Center (UniRZ), the Competence Center Virtual Reality (KVR) and the Fraunhofer IDMT will contribute to the realization.

The CO-HUMANICS project is being funded by the Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung as part of the "Breakthroughs 2020" funding program with up to 4.5 million euros over the next five years. The Carl-Zeiss-Stiftung has set itself the goal of creating scope for scientific breakthroughs. As a partner of excellent science, it supports both basic research and application-oriented research and teaching in the MINT disciplines (mathematics, information technology, natural sciences and technology). Founded in 1889 by the physicist and mathematician Ernst Abbe, the Carl Zeiss Foundation is one of the oldest and largest private science-promoting foundations in Germany. It is the sole owner of Carl Zeiss AG and SCHOTT AG. Its projects are financed from the dividend distributions of the two foundation companies.