The Brains behind a Better Robot for Seniors: Scientists and Engineers
May 4, 2012
by Robin Tricoles
Stop for a moment and consider what it would be like to live with someone always willing to do your chores. For many, it would be a luxury, but for a growing number of older adults, it’s a necessity.
With that in mind, human factors psychologist Wendy Rogers is working with a multidisciplinary team of researchers to design a robot that helps older adults retain their independence while maintaining their quality of life.
“The project is a true collaboration between the robotics side of things and the psychological side,” says Rogers, a psychology professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “The roboticists are designing the robot and the psychologists are helping identify what older adults want the robot to do.”
What the robot needs to do, says Rogers, is quite clear to many older adults, those 65 and up. They want it to clean up, do chores, and bring them their medication, she says. “They don’t want the robot to help them do things they can already do themselves,” says Rogers. “They’re very discriminating about the kinds of tasks they want the robot to do.”
In many instances, especially ones involving privacy, Rogers and her colleagues found that people want a robot’s help. For some personal tasks, you might just not want a human, says Rogers.
However, the robot in this case is human size, about five-foot-four. It also sports grippers, hand-like appendages attached to arms that allow it to pick up and deliver objects, such as bottles of medicine or cups of coffee.
After a group of older adults watched the robot in action, Rogers and her colleagues talked with them about how they felt about having a robot around. Rogers said she was struck by how open-minded the seniors were about the technology. “Many people who design technology think that older adults don’t want to use it,” says Rogers. “Well, our data show they do.”
And when seniors were asked how they’d prefer to control the robot, many liked the idea of simply telling the robot what to do. However, as with humans, this may not be the optimal way to effect control, say researchers.
Instead, Georgia Tech’s Charlie Kemp, a roboticist, has designed a way to control robots using a laser pointer. People who are mobility impaired, especially those who are quadriplegic or paraplegic, may not be able to speak, or they may drop a remote and not be able to retrieve it. A standard laser pointer can guide the robot to retrieve the correct object and give these individuals more control of their environment.
This summer, Rogers and her colleagues will be interviewing health-care providers working in assisted-living facilities. Their aim is to find out how a robot could help providers do their job. One possibility is that the robot could serve as a second pair of eyes for caregivers. The idea being that a robot could be out and about monitoring residents and then return with a report tailored to the caregivers’ needs.
“We believe that we’ll soon have robots in these community institutional environments,” says Rogers. “Robots are still expensive, but one robot could assist a lot of people. But in the future, they’ll be in individual homes."
Wendy Rogers is a professor of psychology at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She is a member of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, the American Psychological Association, and the Psychonomic Society. The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society awarded her the 2010 Paul M. Fitts Education Award. The robot, GATSBII, will be residing at Georgia Tech’s Aware Home throughout the summer. GATSBII stands for the Georgia Tech Service Bot with Interactive Intelligence.
For more information about these projects please visit www.hfaging.org.
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