A holographic avatar could one day be used by the NHS to care for elderly people
A holographic avatar like Tupac could one day be used by the NHS to care for elderly peopleYouTube

It probably won't sing and dance like the Tupac hologram, but researchers with the University of Kent and the University of Portsmouth are working to develop an artificially intelligent hologram avatar that can be used to help elderly people continue to live independently.

The avatar could potentially save the NHS a lot of money as it would be able to take over some of the tasks performed by human carers, appearing as a virtual figure on the television, a tablet or as a hologram, with the sole purpose of watching out for the care recipient.

The avatar would be able to remind a person to take their medication, monitor their blood pressure and heart rate, analyse their speech patterns and facial expressions to gauge their mood, and detect if the person were in pain or had fallen over. It would also be able to contact emergency services for help.

This is the vision of the team behind the Responsive InTeractive Advocate (Rita) project, who have been awarded £500,000 from the Technology Strategy Board to create innovative solutions to public sector challenges.

"Although this project is at an early stage, with a number of technical, moral and ethical issues to be addressed, the development of Rita in the form of a humanised avatar could revolutionise how an individual's personal, social emotional and intellectual needs are met in the future," said Dr Jane Reeves, co-director of the University of Kent's Centre for Child Protection.

"Rita would exist as a digital champion, an advocate in the form of an avatar, providing a friendly interface between the individual, family, friends, professions and services."

Portsmouth will focus on developing the interactive avatar, while Winchester-based company Affective State will work on sensing and forecasting emotional well-being and Glasgow-based We Are Snook is focusing on the user experience design.

Iain Gray, chief executive of the strategy board said: "This is an expanding market and we need to radically rethink our approach to long-term care provision, providing options that will enable people to live with more dignity and autonomy.

"We focus innovation activity on areas where we think it can make the biggest difference. Late-life care is often regarded as an economic liability but it can actually be an engine for economic growth."