Living alone is not the safest option, particularly if you are a senior. To make matters worse, not everyone can afford a personal nurse, assisted living, or moving to a nursing home. It’s a growing concern with people living well past 80s and the kids moving away because of work or to have their own lives.

The International Business Machines Corporation (NYSE:IBM) is coming up with a solution to this problem. The New York-based technology firm with offices around the world is coming up with a robotic roommate that will provide company to the elderly, and also keep them safe.

IBM is reportedly working with Rice University of Houston to develop this robot.

IBM’s Smart Companion Robot MERA

Named the IBM Multi-Purpose Eldercare Robot Assistant or MERA, there will be a series of sensors inside these robots that will detect things such as falling down, unusual audio or scents, sudden changes in the heart rate or blood pressure, and burner in the stove that has not been turned off. It will also be able to recognize speech and read facial expressions, and will thus know when it’s time to call for help. The sensors are being designed for mimicking experiences the elderly people have within their homes.

Susanne Keohane, senior technologist with the company says that MERA will detect important data from within the home, and download it, to understand the resident better. Caregivers and clinicians will also be able to use the robots camera readings to make better decisions.

The IBM MERA Prototype Is Already Ready

IBM has already developed the prototype of MERA, and is busy testing it at their Austin, Texas lab. In this lab, named “Aging in Place”, IBM is creating situations the seniors face in their homes, and finding out how the robot is reacting to them. This is helping them develop better robotic reactions to these situations.

MERA will run on the CameraVitals of Rice University and IBM’s Watson technology and will have the Pepper robot interface of Softbank (TYO:9984).

But Susanne says MERA is still a long time away, as a lot more research needs to be carried out before the robotic roommate is ready to start its work. IBM (NYSE:IBM) hasn’t decided on a date when the robot will be rolled out commercially. Japan, however, has already produced robots that care of the elderly.

With 1.4 billion aged people by 2030 according to the United Nations, there is certainly a big market for robotic assistants for the elderly.