An old person holding hands with a robot arm

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New project to create friendly robotic service to support elderly people

A friendly robotic service for preventative care amongst older adults at risk of frailty is to be developed as part of a new collaborative project involving Loughborough University.

Funded by UKRI, the I’M-ACTIVE project will combine emergent technologies to assess home-based tasks, identify weaknesses, and provide tailored motivation for an active lifestyle. 

NHS England has estimated that 3% of those aged 65 and older are severely frail and another 12% are moderately frail, totalling around 1.8 million people in the UK.

The incidence and prevalence of frailty are having a profound impact on all aspects of the UK economy and society.

The project aims to reduce the impact of frailty in the UK care and health system by analysing the benefits and limitations of emerging robotic and sensor technologies for older adults and engaging with policymakers, practitioners, carers, and potential users to co-produce a new service. 

Professor Massimiliano Zecca, Loughborough University’s lead and an expert in healthcare technology in the School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering, says the research is “essential to reduce the burden on healthcare systems”.

His team will be responsible for the development of measurement tools that will allow for frailty to be assessed.

Of his involvement and the importance of the project, Professor Zecca said: “We are facing the dual challenge of accurately measuring functional and cognitive parameters in the home environment, which is the truest reflection of an older person's abilities, and also developing a system that users will be willing to have in their homes.

“This entails designing and developing a user-friendly system that satisfies their needs and preferences.

“We are confident that the results of I'M-ACTIVE will pave the way for new intervention options that can help frail elderly individuals maintain an active lifestyle and improve their social and emotional wellbeing.”

Sheffield Hallam is leading the study and Professor Zecca will work with Sheffield’s Professor Alessandro Di Nuovo (project lead) and Dr Sally Fowler-Davis, plus Nottingham Trent’s Professor Suvo Mitra and Dr Daniele Magistro. 

Professor Di Nuovo commented: “I am looking forward to working with the interdisciplinary team to define the sociotechnical principles for an acceptable robotic solution that enables older adults to self-manage the risk of frailty.

“Unlike similar past projects, this project has a strong focus on Public and Patient Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) to regularly guide the research toward solutions that have a clear pull from patients and professionals.  

“PPIE will allow us to produce new AI technologies that can be useful to the public, particularly to take into consideration equality, diversity and inclusion.”

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 23/57


UKRI is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. This project is being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the main funding body for engineering and physical sciences research in the UK.  

Loughborough University:

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2023 QS World University Rankings – the seventh year running – and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2023, 10th in the Guardian University League Table 2023 and 11th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’, and in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 over 90% of its research was rated as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally-excellent’. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.