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This fitness trainer will never get tired

Lester Hio on 15 Jan 2015

The Straits Times


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"Both hands above head. Spread both arms wide," she instructs in clear, clipped tones.


Not all her trainees - a group of senior citizens at an activity centre - understand what she is saying in English, but they follow every move that she makes.


While her movements seem stiff, this fitness trainer never gets tired and is able to accommodate requests for personal training any time.


She is, after all, not quite human, but a robot exercise coach.


A final-year project by three electrical engineering students from Ngee Ann Polytechnic and named after the only female member of the group, Xuan is designed to perform 15 simple arm exercises focusing on flexibility and circulation.


"It's very cute," remarked Madam Ang Kwee Eng, 74, one of the participants at an exercise session at the Lions Befrienders senior activity centre in Mei Ling Street, in Queenstown, yesterday.


"The actions are slow and easy to do," she said.


Xuan, which was first tried out at the centre last month, coaches about 40 senior citizens who frequent the facility.


The robot has an animated red face - a tablet - on top of a plastic "body", complete with a neck, arms and wrists.


They are able to rotate, bend and fully mimic human movements.


Written instructions - currently in English - flash on an LCD screen located on Xuan's chest.


One advantage of having such a robot is that seniors can have guided exercise at their convenience, instead of waiting for the twice-weekly group sessions led by volunteers.


"They can now approach any of the staff to start the robot and exercise whenever they want," said Mr Goh Boo Han, executive director of Lions Befrienders.


The 25-minute exercise session can be kick-started with just a voice command.


One participant, Mr Ong Chay Hee, 62, who used to work at an oil refinery, said the exercises were at just the right pace and intensity for him.


"The robot is slow and good. Better than the exercise led by some volunteers who make me do things that are so tiring," said Mr Ong in Mandarin.


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.

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