Presenting Ruth, the Social Robot: Imagine Cup World Finalists Share Their Journey in Building a Personal Assistant for the Elderly

 |   Singapore News Center

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella meets Ruth, the interactive social robot developed by students from Nanyang Polytechnic, that serves as a personal assistant and companion to the elderly in Singapore

Twelve months ago, four young students from Nanyang Polytechnic dreamt of harnessing the power of technology and innovation to develop a solution that can cushion the impact of rapid ageing in Singapore. With the number of citizens aged 65 and above expected to double between now and 2030, ageing is an issue that can have profound problems for Singapore in the years ahead.

At the Microsoft Imagine Cup 2016 Singapore Finals  held in April, Team Yuuy from Nanyang Polytechnic, made up of Yu Zhigang, Yu Yi, Francis Swee and Guo Xihuang, presented their creation Ruth – Singapore’s newest social robot that can serve as a personal assistant and companion to the elderly. Built to understand speech, expressions and communicate with human beings, Ruth has the ability to detect elderly-specific accidents such as falls, remind elderly to take medicine in a timely manner, and call for help when the need arises, making it a promising helper that can ease the strain on resources in manpower-scarce Singapore.

With an outstanding invention that impressed the judging panel and audience alike, Team Yuuy not only won the World Citizenship Category at the Microsoft Imagine Cup 2016 Singapore Finals, they also advanced to the Imagine Cup 2016 World Finals held in Seattle from 26 to 29 July, to compete against 34 other teams from around the world for a chance to become the Imagine Cup World Champion.

While the team did not emerge as winners at the World Finals, here’s a peek into some of the valuable experiences and lessons they took away from their six-month long Imagine Cup journey:

Meet Team Yuuy from Nanyang Polytechnic – comprising Yu Zhigang, Yu Yi, Francis Swee and Guo Xihuang – who presented their creation, Ruth the social robot, at the Imagine Cup 2016 World Finals in Seattle

Congratulations on making the Microsoft Imagine Cup 2016 World Finals! How does it feel to be competing against the best young innovators from around the world in Seattle?

It is absolutely amazing for us to be competing in the Microsoft Imagine Cup 2016 World Finals in Seattle, against some of the best young innovators from around the world. We were very excited to see what the other competitors brought to the table, and took the opportunity to test out their inventions, and speak with them about the inspiration and background behind their impressive creations.

We also managed to try our hand at the latest technologies from Microsoft, such as the HoloLens, which was a real eye-opener. It was definitely a very interesting trip and outing for all of us!

Tell us about your greatest learning from your Imagine Cup journey.

Our greatest takeaway was from the one-hour session we had with Steve Clayton, Microsoft’s Chief Storyteller, who taught us the power of good storytelling. From the session, we learnt that good storytelling can add immense value for our product, and we also learnt that the most important tip to becoming better presenters and delivering a good presentation is to be relaxed before the big moment.

The second biggest takeaway was that we must always be more than 100 percent prepared for worst case scenarios. This learning came at a cost, as one of Ruth’s motors failed just before we were about to present her to the judges. And for some reason, the motor came back on right after we finished our presentation. It’s unfortunate that the presentation didn’t go as well as planned, but we are glad that we learnt the lesson through one of the biggest moments of our lives.

Team Yuuy shows how their interactive social robot, Ruth, is able to detect expressions and display expression feedback to interact with people

Tell us a little bit more about your creation, how is Ruth the social robot intended to help the elderly?

Our social robot, Ruth, is designed to be able to interact with people and help the elderly as a personal assistive and care companion. Ruth focuses on providing care to the elderly in three areas: social-emotional care, safety and assistive care, and personal management care.

In terms of social-emotional care, Ruth is designed to interact naturally with people and can move her limbs, head and eyes to communicate with users in a natural way. Capable of understanding users’ speech and expressions, Ruth can reciprocate with the appropriate verbal answers and actions, and is also able to respond to users’ emotions by displaying expression feedback.

On safety & assistive care, Ruth can monitor the movement patterns of the elderly and assist them in their daily activities when they need help. For example, she is able to help make phone calls, switch the TV on and off, and even find the right TV programmes on the elderly’s behalf. In emergency situations, Ruth can also make phone or video calls to the elderly’s caregiver so that prompt action can be taken.

As for personal management care, Ruth can help to remind the elderly to take their medication, go for their medical appointments and attend events that they have planned for, serving as a personal assistant to help the elderly keep up with their daily activities.

Team Yuuy presents Ruth, the social robot, to the panel of judges at the Imagine Cup 2016 World Finals in Seattle

Following the Imagine Cup 2016 World Finals, what are your plans for Ruth?

Following this, we are looking forward to introducing Ruth to more elderly people to test their comfort level and get their feedback. At the same time, we will also continue to work on improving Ruth’s speech and other functionalities that are helpful to the elderly, as well as develop a moving platform for Ruth to be able to roam around in a house.

Lastly, what advice do you have for the other local aspiring student developers and innovators out there following your Imagine Cup journey?

The Imagine Cup journey has been a great learning experience for all of us. We took back so much and our confidence grew leaps and bounds after going through the Singapore competition, followed by the World competition against the best young innovators in the world!

We want to encourage aspiring young innovators out there to be passionate about your ideas, be confident about telling your story and don’t be afraid to showcase your great ideas to the world! Also, don’t be afraid to fail, as learning from failure will make you come back better and stronger!