The Low Cost Social Robot Project (LoCoSoRoP) is an attempt to create open designs for affordable social robots. The main goal for these affordable social robots is to assist in health care situations by offering a form of relief for people who require care. The initial inspiration comes from a form of therapy called animal assisted therapy, which introduces animals to offer a means of distraction to people who require care. Introducing animals in a health care environment is not always possible though. Regulations on hygiene and safety may prevent this. Or sometimes people cannot offer the care required for the animals as is the case when dementia plays a role for example.
This is where technology can offer a solution. A social robot will be easier to introduce in a health care environment than animals. But it will require the robot to achieve the same results as with animals in order to be successful. The LoCoSoRoP tries to identify key factors in man-animal interaction that cause feelings of joy and happyness, and tries to translate those key factors into man-machine interaction to replicate those feelings. This is referred to as affectionate technology in the project's context.
The LoCoSoRoP is not the only one to design robots for use in (similar) health care scenario's. Several existing social robots already achieve great results in human-computer interaction both in and out of health care environments. The big downside of most existing social robots is that these are very expensive. This results in less people being able to afford them and less people benefitting from the robot's possibilities. That is why the LoCoSoRoP tries to implement an ultra low cost design mentality. We believe that reducing form and offering modulair functionality is an opportunity to reduce cost. Opening up the designs under a creative commons share alike licence furthermore allows for people from all over the world to contribute to furthering the development of the prototypes.
Right now the project is roughly divided into two branches. One is about designing and developing prototypes of social robots, and testing these with their intended audience (which the project calls their owners). Two different prototypes are being designed at the same time. One intended for physical and mentally disabled children and one for elderly people.
The project's other branche is an attempt to finetune previous prototype's designs. This involves creating custom circuit boards for the electronics inside the robots.