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Boston 2002 Friday, 15 February, 2002, 17:23 GMT
Pill reminders from robot pets
AAAS Boston 2002, BBC
Scientists are aiming to improve the lives of the elderly
Ryan, BBC

In the future, the elderly could be reminded to take medication by a computerised pet.


We're trying to find a way to get people to take care of themselves

Joe Coughlin, MIT
The "Pill Pets" behave like the Tamagotchi, a favourite children's toy of recent years, which had to be paid attention, or it would become ill and eventually die.

For the Pill Pets to thrive, they have to be told their reminders to take medication are being acted on.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Ageing Lab in Boston hope people will form an emotional bond with the pets, making them more likely to obey the reminders than if they were simply prompted to take their drugs by, for example, an alarm clock ringing.

Driving Miss Daisy

The Pill Pets are brightly coloured, cuddly toys made of silicon, with a computerised screen that gives instructions on taking medication, such as how many times a day pills should be consumed and if they should be taken with food or drink.

The Pill Pet just one of the devices the Ageing Lab, which is presenting its work to the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Boston, is developing in a bid to make peoples' increasingly long lives as active and productive as possible.

One of the Lab's other ideas is a real-life version of TV Knight Rider's Kit Car.

Named Miss Daisy - after Driving Miss Daisy, the film about an elderly lady who was chauffeured around in her old age - the car is filled with high-tech devices, including a device to warn of imminent collisions, and a night-vision system.

Ageing populations

Populations are ageing. It is estimated that in the US, someone turns 50 every seven seconds.

Joe Coughlin, director of MIT's Ageing Lab, told the BBC advances in science and healthcare over the last century had added around 30 years to the average lifespan, and the lab's work was aimed at devising technology which could improve those years.

He said: "If you think about ageing, it's not just about where you live or using the car, it's about all those activities that make up a healthy active life."

He said the team was looking at: "What's the ideal balance between the technology and the software that's between the ears?"

The Pill Pets are based on the principal that many older people have cats or dogs. Caring for them means the elderly have to take care of themselves so that they can be there to look after their pets.

Early indications are that the Pill Pets are seen in the same way. In trials, elderly women who had taken Pill Pets home grew attached to the devices and did not want to give them back.

Dr Coughlin said: "We're trying to get in [to people's minds] on another channel - rather than on an intellectual level, on an emotional level.

"We're trying to find a way to get people to take care of themselves."

See also:

18 Jan 02 | Science/Nature
13 Nov 01 | Science/Nature
11 Sep 01 | Artificial intelligence
01 Mar 01 | Science/Nature
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