As Europe ages, could robots help care for seniors?
Amid the growing need for affordable and safe elderly care, EU-funded researchers are exploring ways to improve how robots interact with users given a range of tasks and circumstances. The project could help tackle the challenge of providing everyday support to Europe's ageing population.
© morita #160146771, source: fotolia.com 2018
As Europeans grow older and healthcare systems come under increasing pressure, governments are looking for safe, effective and, ultimately, affordable technologies to help care for the physical and psychological needs of its senior citizens. Advances in social robotics is a promising avenue, but is it a realistic one?
Research on social robotics always gets back to whether the interaction quality between the person/object and the robot is fit for a given task or situation. For example, can the robot perform when instructions are unclear or delivered by an older person who is prone to short-term memory loss? Amid this backdrop, the EU-funded SOCRATES project is exploring the complex interplay between robot function, performance and design to improve interaction quality.
Adapting technology to specific user needs is not a new concept. The large keypads built into some old-school mobile phone models are a deliberate design feature so people with poor sight or unstable hands, for example, can still use them effectively. Similarly, by slowing down the speed of robots, elderly people can better interact with them as they become tired in the evenings or after a treatment.
SOCRATES addresses interaction quality from several standpoints: emotion, intention, adaptivity, design and acceptance.
Small tweaks could have significant impact. For example, robots equipped with advanced natural language and video analysis abilities to read human emotional cues such as facial expressions, tone of voice or body language can be designed to better read intentions and adapt to user needs. And, logically, the more attuned the robot is to the user, the better the chances it will be accepted as a companion or support tool.
SOCRATES involves the training of 15 PhD students and received funding through the EUs Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions programme.