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University Researchers Receive $20M Grant to Develop AI Aimed at the Elderly

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A team of researchers at various universities has received a five-year, $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop intelligent systems that help the elderly live at home.

The grant is led by Sonia Chernnova of Georgia Tech, and the team of researchers includes Oregon State University’s Kagan Tumer, who is director of the Collaborative Robotics and Intelligent Systems Institute. The grant is set to be used to create the NSF AI Institute for Collaborative Assistance and Responsive Interaction for Networked Groups, or AI-Caring. 

The Institute’s Goals

The institute is aimed at developing artificial intelligence (AI) systems that can assist elderly adults and their caregivers. It is especially useful for those diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.

Research shows that most older adults prefer to remain in their own homes, but safety concerns and isolation often make this reality difficult. 

“An intelligent system could, for example, detect when the stove is left on and send a reminder to turn it off,” Tumer said. “And if the stove wasn’t turned off, the system could send an alert to a family member or caregiver.”

This type of system could also be used to remind the individual of appointments, medication, and more, as well as assist in scheduling for multiple caregivers.

Technical Challenges

According to Tumer, this type of personalized AI has many technical challenges. Tumer is a professor of mechanical, industrial and manufacturing engineering in the OU College of Engineering. 

Unlike traditional AI that focuses on the choices or actions of a single entity, AI for the elderly must be able to interact with multiple people in the care team, and this has to take place over a long period of months to years.

“To help someone, you need to understand their relationships, their preferred modes of interaction and their values,” said Tumer.  “The goal is not to replace human caretakers but to assist them in creating support networks that can handle routine tasks and enable the medical professionals to focus on critical care.”

The new AI-CARING initiative will also include faculty from Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, and Oregon Health & Science University. Amazon and Google are industry sponsors, and the core researchers will work with other higher education institutions, nonprofits, and government entities.

Sethuraman Panchanathan is National Science Foundation Director. 

“I am delighted to announce the establishment of new NSF National AI Research Institutes as we look to expand into all 50 states,” said Panchanathan. “These institutes are hubs for academia, industry and government to accelerate discovery and innovation in AI. They lead to new capabilities that improve our lives from medicine to entertainment to transportation and cybersecurity while growing the economy and maintaining global competitiveness.”