Meet Rita, she’ll be taking care of you

Senior health workers today met the newest member of tomorrow’s healthcare team – an intelligent computerised avatar designed to help take the strain of caring for Britain’s ageing population.

University of Portsmouth specialists in virtual reality, advanced interactive technologies and animation have combined their expertise to help create Rita (Responsive InTeractive Advocate).

Intelligent Rita, the face of tomorrow’s healthcare provider

Intelligent Rita, the face of tomorrow’s healthcare provider

It’s early days and the prototype will go through much more development before she starts ‘work’, but today marked the first step of revolutionising the way elderly people are cared for in the future, allowing many to live independently for longer and saving the NHS millions.

Rita is being developed so she can appear as a figure on a television screen, a tablet computer or a mobile phone. She is able to monitor heart rate and blood pressure, remind people to take medication and will know if they have fallen over or are in pain and then alert the doctor or the emergency services. She is able to analyse speech, movement and facial expression to detect a person’s mood and respond accordingly. Rita would not require the user to be computer literate and operating her should be no more challenging than switching on a television.

Healthcare avatars will eventually be able to be personalised to the person being cared for and will be ‘taught’ all about their person’s medical history, preferences, memories and even personality.

Dr Wendy Powell is an expert in the use of virtual reality and advanced interactive technologies for health and well-being and has been leading on the University of Portsmouth’s contribution to the project, designing and building the avatar using state of the art animation and games technology.

She said: “The initial funding was to enable us to spend nine months refining an innovative concept into a more formed idea, and to begin developing a prototype system.  We have achieved a massive amount in a short time, much of which was done here at Portsmouth. It’s an indicator of the strength of our project team, as well as the animation expertise at Portsmouth, that we have come so far so fast.”

Rita was introduced at the International Digital Health and Care Congress at the King’s Fund conference by video to an audience of healthcare providers and care commissioners. Their feedback will be used to fine-tune her design and capabilities.

In the four-minute film she was shown responding via tablet computer to a confused and elderly woman in bed late at night.

The project is one of six born of a national Technology Strategy Board initiative, aimed at developing new cost-effective ways of helping elderly people to continue to live comfortably and independently in their own homes.

Talented University of Portsmouth creative technology graduates Thomas Lee (animation) and Daniel Tonks (games technology and programming) have been central to the project’s development, working with the project team to create the lifelike animated avatar and her real-time interface.

Rita’s intelligent sensing software was built by Affective State in Winchester,  with Glasgow-based We Are Snook providing service design expertise, and the University of Kent’s Centre for Child Protection leading the consortium. For more information, visit: www.rita.me.uk

6 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. So how many health care workers are going to lose their jobs, sorry i don’t think this is a good idea, whats up with human care.The trouble now is computers are taking many peoples jobs away from them.

  2. Wow. What a depressing idea – makes me want to cry! Maybe the ‘strain of taking care of Britain’s aging population’ could be shouldered by human beings? with kindness, and beating hearts?

  3. Duane and Wendy,
    Your comments are very valid and in an ideal world, that’s what would happen. However, demand for healthcare far far outstrips supply, and the majority of that demand is from the elderly ( as the occasional visit to my GP’s surgery shows).
    If having Rita enables me (I’m 60) to live wherever I want ( as opposed to being near a GP’s surgery) and access advice when I want it ( as opposed to booking an appointment in 3 days time) then Rita gets my vote.
    By the way I’m married to a nurse and witness what pressures they are already under.
    Adrian

  4. Duane and Wendy, I really sympathise with your sentiments, as I too feel that it is vital that we don’t de-humanise care, and I would be horrified at the thought of anyone taking RITA as a substitute for real human contact. The concept is for something to “fill the gap” for people who are left for hours at a time isolated and lonely in between visits from relatives or carers, and at the moment the best they get is a text based tele health app, or a tv screen. E-health is inevitable as our ageing population outstrips our ability to support it. The idea of RITA is that she would be able to provide conversation and a friendly interface to the e-health world, between human visits, and also to maintain a more personalised continuity of information between carers. We are consulting constantly with carers, health care staff and diverse elderly groups as we develop, but do feel free to contact the team with your thoughts and suggestions, as we really value the feedback.

  5. Having had three elderly relatives die in the past five years, but being painfully conscious that however hard I tried the majority of their time was spent alone (one in Belfast, one in Norfolk, one in South England) I would not have seen RITA as a substitute for me, other family members and for the professional carers each had. Rather RITA would have augmented what we all did to make at least two of those elderly men a little less lonely and bewildered in their final years. The reality is that in a society that has grown away from living in extended family units, with increased younger generation mobility, and with an ageing population, I think we do need to look to technology for some of the answers. For myself, I’d pre-order a RITA for my own elder years !

  6. My instant reaction is a lot of people will loose their job. what will happen in the case where the person needs reassurance from a human or the person get more confused? I think Rita will be ideal in the case where an elderly person requires someone to converse with and in those emergency situation. I hope people don’t loose their jobs as a result, think of the impacts.

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