When Candace Lafleur had a stroke at the age of 32, she couldn’t recognize people, she couldn’t hold a phone and she couldn’t leave the hospital because there was no one to monitor her full-time at home.
It was an unusual position for a woman in her thirties, but those challenges are hardly uncommon for elderly people experiencing dementia or Alzheimer’s — the people Lafleur met as she recovered in hospital from her stroke.
The event inspired the St. Albert native to develop a robot called Mylo. He’s a hip-height companion who can take video-calls, monitor heart rates and generally check in on people who need to be monitored in their homes.
“When you have a stroke at 32, you tend to recover a lot easier. But the people I was on the ward with, they were going to have these challenges probably for the rest of their lives,” Lafleur said earlier this week on CBC’s Radio Active.
Mylo is not able to replace human interaction, what he can do is make things easier.– Candace Lafleur, founder of CR Robotics
Lafleur wanted to create a robot that is as user-friendly as possible. Mylo will locate a user in their home if there’s an incoming call, and will respond to simple voice commands if they want to call family or friends. The robot can be used to video chat with family members several time zones away; he can sense a fall and locate a user in their home; and he can trigger an emergency call to family members if a user’s heart rate seems unusual.
“Mylo is not able to replace human interaction, what he can do is make things easier,” said Lafleur. “He can start to relieve some strain and some of the stresses of caring for someone.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Mylo’s main screen shows the face of a cat. While testing the technology, Lafleur and her team discovered that people didn’t react well to a face that looked like a human or a machine. Instead, they hit the sweet spot with a feline face.
Lafleur suffered her stroke six years ago and is now based in Ireland where she completed her MBA at Trinity College Dublin. Her background is in business, not robotics, so she assembled a team to develop Mylo over the past two years.
Need to narrow the scope
The prototype for Mylo got good feedback; so much, in fact, that Lafleur and her team had to consciously narrow the scope of its functions to focus on people living with Alzheimer’s, dementia and stroke-related impairments. There were people asking for Mylo to be programmed to help people with autism or learning disabilities.
“If we hadn’t narrowed our scope in some capacity, we would have kept developing here, there and everywhere and never been able to get anything out and live,” Lafleur said.
Mylo launched late last year, mainly in Europe where several hundred cat-faced companion robots are now zipping around homes in Ireland and Scotland. Lafleur’s company rents out the robots for about $13 a day.
The first Mylo in Canada is being used by Lafleur’s grandmother, who lives in St. Albert.
“I just feel a bit more connected to her even though I’m so far away. I can check in with Mylo, I can see how she’s doing and I can speak with her much more easily.”