Elder care? Bring in the robots! – Horizon magazine blog
An autonomous healthcare robot holds an insulin syringe and gives it to an elderly woman in her living room. © Miriam Doerr Martin Frommherz, Shutterstock
Robots have come a long way. For years, they have supported human activity – enabling exploration in dangerous and inaccessible environments like in space and on the ocean floor. A new generation of robots is being designed to stay closer to home – caring for aging adults and young children.
In the not-too-distant future, older people who live alone might be reminded to take their medications, read to books, and given a metaphorical shoulder to cry on — by a robot.
As Europe’s aging population puts increasing pressure on health services – the share of older people in the total population is expected to increase significantly in the coming decades – robots could provide a useful solution.
Several robots are being developed as companions to help older people live longer independently.
“Robotics is essential for the health sector and for the elderly, because in 20 to 30 years there will not be enough people to take care of the aging population,” said Estibaliz Arzoz-Fernandez, chief project manager and deputy coordinator of a joint project EU-Japan project called ACCRA.
Meet Astro and BUDDY
A robot designed to help with independent living is BOYFRIEND. He is the size of a medium-sized dog, has an expressive face, and can move and talk.
ACCRA researchers brought together older people and their caregivers to help design this robot and another.
“The older people really felt they had a presence and didn’t feel alone,” Arzoz-Fernandez said. “We believe this robot will improve their well-being.”
BUDDY can give appointment reminders, read e-books aloud, provide cognitive stimulation like math puzzles, host video calls with friends and family, turn appliances on and off, and patrol the house for security .
These features could help people with early signs of addiction live independently longer, said Arzoz-Fernandez, who is also a senior project manager at Trialog, a Paris-based company that advises companies and institutions in the sector. public about new innovations.
Participants said the two most important aspects of BUDDY were his emotional and cognitive interactions. This is what the developers will focus on improving, noted Arzoz-Fernandez.
For example, people loved that BUDDY expressed pleasure when petting the robot’s “head”, and irritation if staring into its “eyes” for a long time.
Another robot the ACCRA project worked on was astro. This is a large mobile robot designed to help people recover from operations and improve their mobility. People can lean on it to walk, and it can guide them through exercises prescribed by health professionals.
Caregivers and older people involved in the project said the robot should move around more easily and allow people to verbally answer its questions.
This type of co-creation “is essential” to developing a robot that meets user needs and expectations, Arzoz-Fernandez said. Design engineers may think they know what end users want, but “often don’t,” she said.
The researchers found that managing the expectations of potential users is also important for the success of bots. “Older users expect activities and conversations provided by humans — and the technology is not quite there yet,” Arzoz-Fernandez said.
Developing robots that can learn about humans and hold conversations with real awareness of their interests will take a long time and could be too expensive, she explained.
Discover Pepper and Cozmo
A lot of time and money goes into making social robots as humane as possible – but research shows they don’t need those expensive attributes to attract humans, said Emily Cross, professor of social robotics at the University of Glasgow.
“There’s this intensive arms race for robots to look and act in ever more human or social, or super engaging ways,” she says.
Professor Cross leads a project called Social bots which compares people’s responses to different robots using brain imaging and monitoring their heart rate, pupil dilation and skin responses. These measures are more accurate – and more useful – than people’s responses to survey questions.
“Really understanding the human side of human-robot interaction…will allow us to accelerate the progress we are making in terms of (developing) truly effective robots.”
Pepper can hold a conversation and move. Cozmo can’t speak but he has expressive eyes and makes sounds to express his emotions.
The research team found that Cozmo engaged brain regions and cognitive processes in a “much more richly engaged” way than when people interacted with Pepper.
“The amount of money and R&D going into this very human robot is far greater than that of this little forklift… children’s toy robot,” Professor Cross said.
“But Cozmo can have a much bigger impact on social cognition in children and adults,” she said. “It’s super surprising in some ways, and not really on the radar.”
The Social Robots project has made another startling discovery: how someone first encounters the robot has as much impact as what the robot looks like and what it can do.
If someone is told that the robot is quite slow or that it needs people to speak slowly, it manages its expectations and it can adapt its behavior to benefit more from the experience – by speaking more slowly, for example .
Understanding these human-robot dynamics is vital. “The future of humanity’s prosperity, comfort, ease and zest for life hangs in the balance,” says Professor Cross.
And countries with aging populations need effective and affordable “social robots” on the market as soon as possible, researchers say.
The good news is that within the next decade — maybe less — robots that extend older people’s ability to live independently could be available for purchase, Arzoz-Fernandez said.
“It will be good for older people, their caregivers and the healthcare system,” she said.
The research in this article was funded by the EU. If you liked this article, please consider sharing it on social media.