The Social & Autonomous Robotic health Assistant SARA project was carried out in 2019. The aim of the EU funded project was to develop a robot that would ease the workload of care facility staff and provide clients with opportunities for social interaction. In 2023, SARA Robotics is operational in 15 care organisations with 24 robots.
The SARA robot was developed collaboratively by project partners Forum Virium Helsinki, Bright Cape Holding from the Netherlands and Technische Universität Berlin from Germany. The Finnish company GIM Robotics was responsible for the navigation capabilities of the SARA robot. The integration of a social dimension allowed the robot to provide clients with additional stimulation and help them engage in meaningful everyday activities
We spoke to SARA Robotics’ Product Owner Annabella Hermans to find out how the concept has developed since the project finished in 2019.
How did the SARA project work as a platform for your innovation?
Annabella Hermans: “The SARA project was the base of our company. We started with an idea of robots in health care because the shortage in care professionals and the growing aging population problem was already visible in 2019. Even though the broad attention in the media, news and politics came later during the pandemic. Our consortium Bright Cape, Forum Virium, Gem, TU Berlin already knew that robots were going to be the future of healthcare, but in what way or form was still a mystery.”
What was the collaboration like with the project companies?
“We started out with an autonomous navigating medicine delivery robot which was going to drive through the hallways of the care facility to bring the medicines to the clients. During this project we learned about robotics in general, what hardware is available on the market, what is already being used in different fields. We learned about health care and our target group.
The robot we chose was tested out in different care facilities with different target groups to research what was going to be a good fit. Which clients responded well to a robot in general and would they accept a robot in their environment? Would they talk to the robot and build a connection or would there be resistance or even fear? We then started developing the platform where we learned about sensors and navigation technology and started building the software. We were even on the Dutch national news!
During this project, the collaboration was close between the different organizations in the different countries. We also visited each other to see the work environment in the other countries and learn from the different health care systems. Today I saw in our newspaper that the minister of long term care was visiting a healthcare organization in Helsinki to gather information and inspiration. We already did that in 2019!”
“The SARA project was the base of our company. Now in 2023, we are operational in 15 care organisations with 24 robots.”Annabella Hermans, SARA Robotics
How has the SARA robot been developed since the pilot?
“After all the pilots and learnings during the project, we decided to pivot from the medicine delivery robot towards a social robot that could entertain, activate and calm clients with dementia in a nursing home. We builded many functionalities on the robot based on co-innovation with our customers. During the pandemic, we decided to give away our robots for one month to help during these difficult times and also to get more feedback from different care facilities.”
What have been the main achievements for SARA Robotics so far?
“In the end, we brought our SARA robot to 125 care organisations in the Netherlands, who all tested out the robot for one month. This helped us a lot with new insights and feedback, but we also think that SARA already could help the clients as well. We also gained new customers who are still innovating with us to create the care assistant of the future. Now in 2023, we are operational in 15 care organisations with 24 robots. We have won several awards and got on national TV many times.”
How will the SARA robot be developed from now on?
“SARA already has many functionalities, such as face recognition, personal profiling, a dashboard with data insights, a night watch, activity programs, a family app, and so on. Now we are developing a new generation of the SARA software and we are also looking for new hardware to get ready for a future full of algorithms and AI in order to make a robot that is not only social but also emotionally intelligent.
We do this with many partners, and one of them is Mentech. Mentech specialises in stress detection with the use of wearables that measure skin conductance and heart rate. Together we can build a robot that is aware of the client’s emotional status and can adapt the interactions based on the clients’ personal interest and mood.”
Article photo: Forum Virium Helsinki