THE lives of lonely pensioners will be improved once families invest in help from humanoid robots like Blu.

The 3D-printed robot with a monkey face is being developed by staff at Oxford Brookes University to assist the elderly and infirm in social care situations.

Blu was the star of the show yesterday at innovation showcase Venturefest Oxford, staged at the university’s striking John Henry Brookes Building.

Families can take the robot on holiday and link up to a separate virtual reality headset worn back home by an elderly relative, connecting them in real-time and bridging distances of thousands of miles.

“This telepresence technology is even better than Skype - it makes you feel like you are in the room with someone,” said Nigel Crook, professor of AI and robotics at Oxford Brookes.

“Loneliness is a huge problem and Blu could be designed to help in social care situations.

“It could also be developed to perform other functions like holding a cup of tea, or issuing reminders regarding medication. Providing remote assistance will be of particular help in the field of social care.”

Blu’s potential was recognised by investors at Venturefest, now in its 20th year.

Blu’s designer Alex Austin said the £10,000 prototype would now be developed to go on sale.

He added that a spinout company, Oxford Robotic Innovations, would be set up to prepare Blu for the commercial market.

Mr Austin said: “The possibilities for the functions we can build into Blu are almost limitless but telepresence helps so much with interaction.”

Visitors to Venturefest got a flavour of robotics on arrival when they were greeted by Artie, a singing robot programmed to perform songs from popular musicals.

Lynn Shepherd, chairwoman of Venturefest, is bowing out after four years and five Venturefests.

She said earlier: “I feel very proud that the Venturefest Oxford brand has continued to thrive and grow.”

Businesses and organisations from across the county took part, including those from the Harwell Space Cluster at Harwell Oxford. And Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership launched a £5.2m programme to encourage innovative business ideas from small and medium-sized enterprises.

Transport was high on the agenda, with the university and Oxford Bus Company revealing a new BROOKESbus livery, while Banbury-based Prodrive showed off Hummingbird, ‘the lightest folding bike in the world’.