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Android built to care for dementia sufferers

A remarkably lifelike robot could replace human carers in keeping dementia patients company.

Nadine is an android created by a laboratory in Singapore whose software allows her to converse with real people, recognise their faces and even remember what they spoke about last time they met, as well as change her expressions to show emotions.

The software is similar to Siri, the personal assistant used in iPhones, although Nadine also has arms that she can wave around to emphasise a particular point.

The android was created at the Institute of Media Innovation at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore by a team headed by Nadia Thalmann, who modelled the robot’s face, hair and height on herself.

Nadine started off working as a receptionist at the institute — even robots, it seems, have to do a stint as an intern — but Professor Thalmann hopes that one day the robot could look after people suffering from dementia: holding simple conversations with them, telling stories or even playing basic games.

“If you leave these people alone they will be going down very quickly. So these people need to always be in interaction,” Professor Thalmann, who has spent three decades developing software for virtual humans, said.

The team is also in the early stages of developing emotive robots that could one day be used to play with children and alert absent parents or nannies of any problems. To give them an educational slant, the robots could be programmed with several languages to help to teach the children in their care.

“A child has toys but they are usually passive,” Professor Thalmann said. “This robot will be an active toy that interacts with the child. It will be able to remember what the child likes.”