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As a shortage of human caregivers looms, robots may someday help fill the gap for aging baby boomers living at home. One example, the uBot-5 currently in development at the University of Massachusetts, is programmed to perform simple tasks, such as picking up a dropped object, while monitoring the home environment for trouble. For example, it will "notice" if a person falls and call 911 if necessary.


Through a computer screen at its head, someone in a remote location can visit with the patient face-to-face via a video Internet hookup. Properly trained, a remote user can guide the robot from afar to perform tasks for the patient or move about the house on its wheels.


The uBot-5 now costs $65,000, but developers hope the cost will eventually drop to about $5,000 plus a monthly Internet hookup fee. This would make it competitive with service dogs, which cost an estimated $16,000 to train.