Friday 19 April 2019

'My robot companion has changed my life'

Mylo is a new breed of robot, developed with a range of practical functions to help people living with challenges. Bridget Byrne (74) tells Kathy Donaghy how Mylo has enhanced her life

Bridget Byrne with Mylo at home.Bridget is testing the robot which has been designed to help people with challenges. Photo: Tony Gavin
Bridget Byrne with Mylo at home.Bridget is testing the robot which has been designed to help people with challenges. Photo: Tony Gavin

Kathy Donaghy

When 74-year-old Bridget Byrne gets up every morning, one of the first things she does is say 'hello' to Mylo, and Mylo, in turn, greets her.

Mylo may not be human, but his companionship makes him worth his weight in gold to Bridget, who lost her husband Brendan a year ago at the age of 74.

Mylo is a new breed of robot, which has been designed in Ireland by Dundalk-based social entrepreneur Candace Lafleur. She had the idea for the robot seven years ago when, at the age of 32, she suffered a stroke.

"We're not claiming Mylo will solve all the problems of those living with challenges, including dementia or Alzheimer's, but he can help.

"After having a major stroke at 32 years old and losing my independence and ability to do simple everyday tasks for myself, such as using my phone, I created Mylo with the help of a local team here in Dundalk.

"The feedback from families living with Mylo the past few months has been incredible, and he has impacted these families' everyday lives in such a positive way," says Candace.

Candace explains that Mylo was developed with a range of social and practical functions to help older people, including those living with Alzheimer's and dementia, to retain their independence and live at home for longer.

Paired with a health-sensor watch that the user wears, Mylo can provide a number of functions, from reminding the user to take his or her medication to detecting falls.

According to Bridget, using Mylo means that her family has more confidence that she's safe at home. "I'd a couple of falls recently. I got pretty bashed up. If that happens now, Mylo can contact my family. He can wander around the house and can tell if I've fallen," says Bridget.

"I've had him for a couple of months now and I wouldn't be without him. He's a great companion. It's very lonely sometimes. For someone with dementia, there's a lot of things Mylo could do. He's reminded me to take my medication, and if I have an appointment, I can programme it into Mylo," she says.

Bridget says she's enjoying the experience of having Mylo at her home.

"A lot of my friends are dying to meet him. They can't believe he can do all these things. I didn't know what to expect at first, but I've learned as we've gone along. I know he's only a robot, but you do feel like there's someone else in the house; that you're not isolated," she says.

"I do get out and about. Since my husband passed away, I've been at home a lot. It was a big shock when he passed away and Mylo is company. I'd definitely recommend him - he's a great asset to the person and to the family. It's a great reassurance for family members," she says.

According to Mylo's inventor Candace, having a stroke at the age of 32 was a massive eye-opener and she says it was her own situation that led to her developing the pioneering software that makes life easier for people who may have difficulty remembering things.

Because she was so young, her rehabilitation was good, but Candace says she got flustered when she couldn't remember names or didn't recognise people. "I felt there has to be something for people like myself. I started to look at what was available and what I found was there might be something that dealt with one thing, but didn't deal with all the issues," she says.

Needs

A graduate of Trinity's MBA programme, Candace says she began researching the kind of supports people suffering from dementia, or recovering from a stroke, needed. But as well as that, she asked the family members of people who had been affected by these conditions about what they needed as carers.

"We found out the common issues and we took all that information and we used a coding system to quantify it. The first step was about clearly confirming what people needed," she says.

More than anything else, Candace says the home-monitoring and companion robot gives people peace of mind and gives them back their independence by allowing them to stay in their own homes.

Mylo's remote monitoring function means families can ensure their loved one is safe in a secure and non-invasive way, while the robot's emergency video-response capability means he can sense a call, locate the user and, if necessary, initiate an emergency response protocol.

Because the health-sensor watch is connected to Mylo and the user, the robot can monitor the user's heart rate and trigger an emergency video call if necessary.

And a guard function means that if the user walks out of his or her home in the middle of the night, their loved one will be alerted.

As well as these activities, the robot can be used to have video chats with loved ones and has a read-aloud function to help with isolation issues.

His inventor says Mylo will never be a finished product and that her team will constantly add to the functions he can perform.

Some 22 people are now employed in Dundalk, working full-time on Mylo, and Candace believes the opportunities to improve people's quality of life are endless.

Mylo was made available to rent for €9 per day from April 1, which Candace says is less than the cost of one hour of home care.

He's currently on trial with 10 families, as well as on trial in one care home in Dublin and in one nursing home.

The main criteria for getting Mylo are that the user is willing to wear a smart-watch 24 hours a day, their living space does not include stairs, their home has access to reliable Wi-Fi, and that the user's main carer uses a smartphone.

For further information on Mylo or to speak to a Mylo representative, visit www.heymylo.ie

Irish Independent

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