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Meet PIO the robot parrot, your new health companion created by SNU students

기사승인 2017.09.07  11:51:53

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SNU students Zermile, Yoon Young-sub and Kang Jin-ha (from left) have created robot parrot PIO to help diagnose dementia patients. Photo provided by Yoon Young-sub. 

What if a bird could communicate with people and even help protect their health? This year, a parrot named PIO was born in Seoul National University (SNU) classroom to do just that. 
PIO is a robot that talks to patients, running medical questionnaires to check their dementia status. It sends the data it collected to doctors to help them decide whether the patient needs hospital treatment. 
According to the Korean Dementia Observatory, 9.8 percent of Koreans aged over 65 were dementia patients in 2016. This disorder is characterized by a decline in mental abilities, such as memory, is on the increase.  
The other members of PIO, Yoon Young-sub (Electronic engineering) Kang Jin-ha (Sculpture) and Zermile (Design), decided to create the robot to help address this issue. 
“We chose to make a robot that focuses mainly on dementia as a rapid increase of aging population is a huge issue in Asia,” Yoon said. “We thought it would be helpful if our robot could prevent any more dementia patients.”
The trio made the robot for the inaugural creating AI Robots class, which opened for one semester last year as the first ever SNU course to target both engineering and arts majors. In a bid to prepare them for careers in the era of the 4th Industrial Revolution, 37 students in the class were divided into seven teams of inventors. 
The 4th Industrial Revolution is seeing experts to develop and fuse technologies at an unprecedented rate. This topic gained greater prominence after Google DeepMind Artificial Intelligence (AI) program, AlphaGo, defeated human champion Go player, Lee Se-dol in March 2016. 
SNU’s robot challenge classes aim to train students in AI technology to help them adapt to digitalization.
“I enrolled in the class because it seemed unique and it would be cool to make my own robot,” said PIO-inventor Kang. “Honestly, at first it was quite difficult for me but I think the process was more efficient in a way that three or more different majors formed the team. We were able to share each other’s unique ideas and think of our robots in both art and mechanical perspectives.”
The project has produced seven robots, each carrying out different tasks. One robot makes people laugh, another helps people living away from home to communicate with their families. Buddy is a robot that measures and records children’s height as they grow. The inventors of Peekabot, a robot that plays peekaboo with children, have already applied for a patent. Professors even said the inventions approached professional quality.
Although SNU plans to run similar classes in the future, they don't have plans for 2017. 
Yoon and Zermile now aim to turn PIO into a business. They have upgraded their robot using chatbot technology, which allows it to translate users’ speech into text and even reply to their questions.  
Interacting with PIO without typing is a huge benefit to older people, who usually prefer simple technologies. PIO can also recognize people’s faces and move its head to follow them using its camera.
Medical students also saw the benefit of using a robotic health assistant. One medical student from Yonsei University said that the robot could help patients who have difficulty traveling to hospital. However, the student also believed that some care could only be provided by humans. 
Now, Team-PIO aims to commercialize their invention, with the financial support of Gwangmyeong Startup Support Center. The students aim to develop PIO to be not only a 24-hour doctor but also a warm companion for patients. They are adding more functions and experimenting with PIO outside the lab. If they are successful, robot parrot PIO may be our new doctor in the near future.

Lee Young-in younginlee@ewhain.net

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