Robot to catch older people, stop them falling

As AI infiltrates our lives, researchers from Singapore have now created a robot designed to sense when people are about to fall and catch them. All they have to do, seemingly, is wear a harness and let the robot do the rest.


“Mr Bah” to the rescue

The Mobile Robotic Balance Assistant (MRBA), or “Mr Bah”, was tested on 29 people who had different conditions including traumatic brain injuries, strokes and spinal cord injuries. No falls were reported during the clinical trial period.

Mr Bah helped them sit, stand, walk and do tasks like getting water, according to reports from the Nanyang Technology University. It looks like a motorised wheelchair with guard rails, attached to a harness that users are strapped into. Sensors detect when the person starts to lose balance, engaging the robot which stops them from falling.

It is planned for commercial release within the next couple of years, pending funding for further research and regulatory approval, both for hospital and home use. Mr Bah would join a series of other robots that have been designed for older adults, including those that clean homes, offer companionship and monitor health biometrics.

The researchers claim the robot can help empower older adults and patients with greater independence so they can lead “healthier and happier lives”.


Do we need robots to lead “healthier, happier lives”?

Falls are Australia’s biggest problem in older adults, leading to hip fractures, prolonged hospital care and increased mortality. In fact, they account for 42% of hospitalisations and 40% of deaths from injury, placing a major financial burden on the medical system.

Key causes include slipping, tripping or stumbling, often at home and on flat surfaces. Contributors include poor balance, waning eyesight, cognitive decline and loss of confidence. These are compounded by reduced muscle strength and bone density that occur with aging, which at its worst can lead to sarcopenia and osteoporosis.

These conditions, and associated falls, don’t have to be an inevitable part of aging, as people who live in the Blue Zones have shown us. Physical and mental decline is largely preventable with lifestyle factors – these include a sense of purpose, relaxation, supportive communities and perhaps most importantly regular physical activity and good nutrition.

One large study, for instance, showed that individually tailored exercises to people in aged care improved their balance and mobility and reduced falls by 55 percent. Resistance and strength training are particularly important for maintaining and improving muscle mass and strength with aging. Even keeping up incidental daily activities can help.

Nutritionally, increasing protein and calcium intake has been shown to reduce the risk of falls and fractures. Vitamin D is also a key nutrient for bone health. Overall, a healthier diet is associated with less weakness and fragility.

Making these lifestyle changes can bring immense rewards including greater independence and quality of life, helping to empower older adults to take charge and live healthier, happier lives.

Photo courtesy of NTU Singapore, via Twitter.



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