As the use of social/personal robots increases in senior living communities, a new study has uncovered a surprising group of nonfans — grandchildren — and suggests ways to win them over.
Roger A. Søraa, Ph.D., and colleagues at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology Department of Neuromedicine and Movement Science studied the interactions of children aged 6 to 13 with three different robots — two of which are designed to help older adults — at a research fair in Norway. They published their results in the journal AI & Society.
“As the current discourse on social robots relates strongly to elderly care, it’s interesting to learn what young people think about robots taking care of the elderly, especially in the context of their own older family members,” he said.
One of the robots was Pepper, a humanoid machine that is almost 4 feet tall and is used primarily as a personal assistant, can perform various tasks and can be trained to do things such as perceive when someone falls and notify an alarm system.
Another robot in the study was Tessa, described as “a flower pot with eyes” that actually is a sensor system especially for people with dementia. The robot can learn to recognize the habits of the person it lives with and offer help when routines change. For instance, through sensors in a refrigerator, it could learn that the resident usually opens the refrigerator door and eats breakfast at 9 a.m. every day. If the refrigerator is not opened at the usual time, then Tessa can remind the person that it is time to have breakfast.
The third robot, called AV1, is designed for children who are physically unable to attend regular school. It is shaped like a head with eyes that follow the classroom instruction, and a student can control the robot from home and follow what is going on in class using a mobile app.
The robot that the kids liked least? Pepper.
“The children’s attitudes towards robots were relatively positive, curious and exploratory, but they thought Pepper was a little scary,” Søraa said. “It probably partly has to do with Pepper being quite big and the same height as some of the kids.”
Research, he added, also has shown that the more a robot looks like a human, the more frightening it becomes.
The good news is that more than three-fourths of the children (76%) thought that Pepper could help older adults in general. Only 60% thought Pepper could help their own grandparents, however.
“This difference could potentially be explained by how the children perceive their own grandparents as relatively fit,” Søraa said.
The kids responded the most positively to Tessa, the flowerpot, researchers round.
Søraa said that’s because Tessa had clear tasks, such as reminding people about meals and other activities, that the children could understand.
More than 97% of the kids thought that Tessa could help older adults, and 86% thought the robot would be useful to their own grandparents.
Senior living operators, as they purchase or integrate robots into their communities, may find it useful to try to make the technology seem less scary for little ones and to explain to them how the technology helps their loved ones.