Second outing: Dietobotics

Ate too much in the holidays? Worried about weight gain and resolving to go on a diet? This post will interest you, especially if you live anywhere near MIT.

A rare unfulfilled dream in my life goes way back to my days as a student of engineering. I was endlessly fascinated with robots and what they could do. I wanted to create a robot for doing mundane housework such as mopping and another for intelligent conversations. In the final year, I wrote a seminar/ thesis on the role of electronics in robotic arm motion and actually applied and got a place on a graduate programme to study robotics and AI in the United States.

Then life intervened. And like many a chance discovery, that seem to have shaped my life including my drift from software and communication technologies to public health and obesity, I set myself along a new path.

Story-time over…

MIT Media Lab’s Personal Robots Group is working on a Weight Maintenance Social Robot.

The robot has been developed by combining the knowledge of human-robot interaction with current weight loss and weight management techniques. The robot will serve as a coach to the subject trying to lose weight, and will support better adherence, lack of which is seen to be one of the key reasons for failure of diet oriented weight loss programmes.

How will this work?

The robotic coach will try and integrate into the subject’s social support network. The subject can also share the relevant data with family, friends, or caregivers in the process of weight loss. Using data collected on calories consumed and exercise performed, and comparing it with goals set by the subject, the robotic coach will offer feedback on recent behaviour and make recommendations for near-term behaviour, latter drawn from general information on diet, nutrition, and exercise, but tailored to the context of the subject.

Although the assumption of ‘adherence’ being a major point of failure in weight loss programmes can be challenged, I think I shall reserve that for another time and for the other blog.

For now, I hope you can understand my thrill at the development. Finally something that connects the various threads, including the lost ones, in my life!

And with the numbers of overweight adults growing like topsy, I suppose a few others would be thrilled too.

Last summer, when I was doing some field work in the US, I took to my host’s Roomba with gusto, so much so that I used to praise him (See? I told you!) and lavish him with cooing noises, normally reserved by more affectionate souls for babies. Now I just can’t wait to see this robotic coach in action.

Now if only there were a robot already in existence who could give feedback on status of progress of the writing of the doctoral thesis at hand…

(Also cross-posted on my Obesity blog)

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