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Melbourne's Andromeda Robotics trials AI companion robot in aged care

Melbourne-based AI startup Andromeda Robotics has announced initial trials of its prototype humanoid companion robot, Abi, in partnership with aged care provider Allity. The robot, designed to facilitate a relaxed, conversational interaction with aged care residents, utilises the Chat GPT-4 Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform in its operations.

Abi's capabilities include recognising residents, conducting conversations, and tailoring interactions based on previous ones. This humanoid companion robot trial is spearheaded in Victoria and is considered a global first for the aged care sector.

These trials will be supported through Andromeda's recent enrolment in Victoria's Boab AI Scaleup Program as the company continues to raise additional funding. To date, Andromeda has garnered over AUD $1 million in funding led by Galileo Ventures. The funds acquired are expected to support further product development and trial activities.

Thena Johnstone, National Pathways Manager at Allity, expresses optimism about the contribution of robots like Abi to conversations with the residents. She says: "We have been fortunate enough to be involved with the prototype robot from the very early stages and have watched it grow in capability and physical stature. Abi now stands some 120cm tall and can gesture and move its head and eyes when interacting with residents."

Johnstone notes that staff shortages in aged care sometimes hindered meaningful conversations with residents, making Abi's role crucial. She adds: "Unfortunately, feelings of loneliness and depression are all too common in aged care. I see a huge opportunity for robots such as Abi to make a real difference for residents and their quality of life. They can't replace humans but can complement the fantastic levels of care that our staff provide."

Grace Brown, Founder of Andromeda, describes the Allity trial as a significant part of Abi's ongoing evolution. The trial will offer invaluable data to the company's development team. "Abi uses a mix of machine vision, artificial intelligence and Chat GPT to power its interactions with residents," Brown says.

"The robot also relies on non-verbal cues, and we have worked with advisors from animation studios Pixar and DreamWorks to make Abi's body language as empathetic and engaging as possible," she adds.

According to Brown, the concept of companion robots is not new, but their real-world application was limited due to poor interaction capabilities. She points out that recent technological advancements have improved these capabilities, taking conversational AI to a new level and enabling robots to make emotional connections with users. "This is not just when it comes to communicating with people but also making an emotional connection, which is so important," says Brown.

Brown announced further that the AUD $1 million funding, raised through Galileo Ventures and Andromeda's involvement in Amazon's AWS Robotics Startup Acceleration Program, would allow them to continue their development program.

"This will allow us to continue our development program to bring a fully functional robot to market within the next 18 months," she concludes.

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