Thursday, September 10, 2020

Lonely? Robot Companions May Help

The Guardian recently published an article about the use of robots in long term care facilities to combat loneliness of residents. Robots to be used in UK care homes to help reduce loneliness describes the roll these robots can play in interacting with residents.  These are not your "normal" robots, but then I don't know what one would consider a "normal" robot. These robots, on wheels, "called “Pepper”, move independently and gesture with robotic arms and hands and are designed to be “culturally competent”, which means that after some initial programming they learn about the interests and backgrounds of care home residents. This allows them to initiate rudimentary conversations, play residents’ favourite music, teach them languages, and offer practical help including medicine reminders."  The researchers not that these robots do not replace human caregivers but instead supplement them.  The robots were tested in the U.K. and Japan and researchers found that those residents who spent time with the robots for "18 hours across two weeks had a significant improvement in their mental health. There was a small but positive impact on loneliness severity among users and the system did not increase feelings of loneliness...." 

Robots, whether "Pepper" or others, do have limitations--for example, they aren't human.  The article reports some of the limitations mentioned, such as their chats with residents were lacking some depth, were impersonal and lacked cultural awareness. Their movements were, shall we say, robotic. But imagine, a robot that can hold a conversation with you.  This can be a great tool, to supplement human caregivers!

Thanks to Professor Feeley for sending me the article.

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