An out of this world experience meeting Mario the companion robot at Sacred Heart Hospital

 A truly out of this world experience awaited students from Roscommon Community College recently as they attended the launch of Mario, the companion robot at the Sacred Heart Hospital, Roscommon. The National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG)  and the Sacred Heart Hospital, together with Roscommon Community College came together to create an Open Day like no other, as Mario the robot was unveiled.

Mario is the product of a new European research project, which has bought together a consortium of partners from academic institutions and industry across Europe, led by the School of Nursing and Midwifery of the National University of Ireland, Galway.

Funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme, within the thematic section ‘Societal Challenge on Health, Demographic Change and Wellbeing’, the MARIO project aims to manage active and healthy ageing through the use of caring service robots. It assembles a team of international experts from academia, industry and dementia groups to work collaboratively in tackling the burdens imposed by dementia and developing innovative solutions using caring robots. With  approximately 41, 470 people in Ireland currently living with dementia, and 26, 000 of these sufferers living at home, the main aim of the companion robot is to assist dementia patients as they strive to enjoy a better quality of life. Mario helps users to sustain the confidence to engage in a variety of social activities, while simultaneously building resilience and encouraging communication and independence.

Mario, the companion robot addresses the difficult challenges of loneliness, isolation and dementia in older persons by providing an interactive and extensible service robotics platform targeted towards healthy aging. Aiming to provide insight into residential care and the most cutting edge advancements that are currently underway in Ireland, the Open Day at the Sacred Heart Hospital and Care Home afforded the students the opportunity to meet with Mario and explore some of his features.

Mario is currently under development on a Europe wide level, under the auspices of the European Union Horizons 2020-the Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (2014-2020).  Project Mario- “Managing active and healthy aging with the use of caring service robots” is led by Professor Dympna Casey and Professor Kathleen Murphy at NUIG along with their team of researchers from the School of Nursing & Midwifery. All qualified nurses, now working as lecturers in the School of Nursing & Midwifery at NUIG, the principal aim of the project leaders is to further educate student nurses and qualified nurses in the area of dementia and memory loss in older people. The project leaders have been involved in several major national studies on the topic over the past number of years  and the Mario project is a three year study that involves four other countries; Italy, UK, Greece and Germany.

The 4 million Euros project started on 1st of February 2015 and will last for three years. During this period three pilot studies of robots interacting with people with dementia will be undertaken. The first pilot is currently running in the west of Ireland, organised by NUIG’s School of Nursing and Midwifery, the second is running in Stockport, UK, while the third is running in Italy, organised by a leading research hospital, Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, which is pushing research boundaries in comprehensive geriatric assessment. Project coordinator, Dr. Dympna Casey of NUIG, says of these pilot studies: ‘all interactions with caregivers, persons with dementia, older persons and stakeholders will fully comply with standards-based medical assessment methodologies and aspire to provide a truly user-led design ethos’. The project’s communication strategist, Prof. Kathleen Murphy of the Galway University (NUIG), explains: ‘MARIO is an exciting and innovative project that will make a huge difference to the lives of people with dementia. We will be working directly with people with dementia to ensure that the issues they see as important are addressed. Multi-faceted interventions will be developed, which will be delivered by humanoid robots’.

Students from RCC were excited to learn that the technology at the heart of MARIO is the robot Kompai, designed and developed by a consortium partner, French company Robosoft. Other partners in the consortium are providing technological expertise in the areas of robotic applications and semantic computing. All the outcomes of the research will be made public and these are expected to be of great benefit to people with dementia as well as lead to commercial opportunities for cutting-edge technology companies. According to Prof. Murphy, ‘the project will follow an open doors communications policy – the project is funded by the European Commission and its results belong to all the citizens of the European Union’.

The first phase of the study involved talking to carers and persons with memory problems or dementia to find out how they felt about robot companions, what they would like such a robot to do for them, and how robots could be designed to build their resilience. This information was used to further develop the MARIO robot so that it will provide better companionship to people with memory problems/dementia. The current phase of the study has brought the robot (approximately 2) to residential care settings to talk with residents and provide companionship.


On the day of the launch, Sarah Summerville and Adam Santorelli, representatives from the MARIO team, were present to host the day and deliver a presentation on the project. They conducted valuable research and interacted with our students, asking about attendees’ likes/ dislikes, and their opinions of MARIO. Students particularly enjoyed interacting with Mario as they tested out some of his features and put him through his paces. Special thanks to Mary Butler (ADON) Project Coordinator, Sacred Heart Hospital, and to Sarah Summerville and Adam Santorelli of the Mario Project, NUIG for making the launch such a success. Thanks to Ms. Cullen and Mr. Donlon for accompanying students on the day. 

Jack, Sam and Nathan put Mario through his paces at the Sacred Heart Hospital, Roscommon


Students and teachers from RCC at the launch of Mario, the companion robot at the Sacred Heart Hospital