Monday, April 28, 2014

Exploring the Potential of Assistive Robots.

Frank: Can't you do that super fast?  Robot: Some things take time, Frank. -- Robot & Frank, 2012.

As you know, I've been researching and writing a paper on the topic of assistive robots for older adults living in their homes. The topic caught my interest as I pondered the caregiver shortage and possible solutions.  Well, I'm nearly finished with my paper and presented a poster on this topic last week. 

I learned so much from this process and here are some interesting findings:

  • Older adults are open to the idea of robots performing practical tasks such as managing information, manipulating objects, and assisting with household chores. Most prefer human aid for personal care needs (Smarr et al., 2013)
  • Many expressed preferences for small, creative looking robots with combinations of human-like and machine-like traits. Humanoid robots were the least favored (Wu, Fassert, & Rigaud, 2012).
  • For older adults, robots must fit seamlessly into living environments because home is a central, interconnected hub where people, products, and activities come together (Forlizzi, diSalvo, & Gemperle, 2004).
  • Very few studies have considered socio-demographic variables on studies of robot acceptance and usage (Flandorfer, 2012).

Presenting my poster at a graduate studies showcase. (Photo on right: by D. Houlton)
Despite fear and hesitancy towards the idea of assistive robots, those who participated in user studies had mostly positive experiences, and many suggested that they would not mind having such devices in their homes. In a few studies, however, older adults stated that robot usage represents loneliness, frailty, and isolation. Thus they would not utilize robots. 

Presently, there are ethical concerns, cost of robots, and lack of availability. These are all important issues to consider. Furthermore, there is a general lack of user studies with older adults.  I believe that robots have potential to provide assistance, but I also believe that there are so many areas that need to be addressed in order to move forward.  On a positive note, there are many new technological products being created for older adults to live safely and independently in their homes.

Thank you for visiting my blog. If you have questions or comments, I would be interested in hearing from you. Less than one month until graduation! Woohoo!!!