The world population is rapidly aging — at least in developed countries. The number of seniors will explode in the next two decades. So researchers everywhere are trying to find new ways to help elderly people to continue to live at home. This is why a team from Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh, University of Michigan and Stanford University has spent the last four years to design Pearl, a robot specifically designed to help old people.

Her name is Pearl and she’s kinda cute.

At the March 16 national conference of the Center for Aging Services Technologies in Washington, D.C., the team displayed the high-tech walker dubbed IMP; a related, handheld memory device that prompts people on things they should be doing; and Pearl herself, the object of greatest attention. With movable facial features mounted atop her 4-foot high collection of computers, motors, plugs and wires, she’s the product that most closely resembles the image conjured by the term “robot.”

Pearl has visited the upscale Longwood residence several times since the research team received a $1.4 million National Science Foundation grant for the Personal Robotic Assistants for the Elderly project. The researchers wanted to assess, first of all, how people who grew up before mainframes would take to interacting with devices that looked like props or mechanized cast from “Star Wars.”

If these well-heeled and well-educated people are any fair indication of the overall senior population — and researchers aren’t certain they are — then the likes of Pearl should have no trouble fitting in.

More here. …and more pictures here.