09:15pm Monday 21 October 2019

Residents’ rate healthcare robot

Residents and staff at Selwyn Retirement Village scored Charlie the robot on average 80 out of 100 in a study of attitudes and emotions towards robots.

Fifty-three people participated in the study, 32 residents and 21 staff. They filled in two questionnaires, one before meeting the robot and one after.

Dr Bruce MacDonald, from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and head of the research group, said most older people at the retirement village liked the robot and found it easy to use.
“We were pleased because the results show that robots can be acceptable to older people and that they enjoy using them.”

Charlie the robot, who checks blood pressure, plays music, tells jokes, and responds to hugs, was developed by the Health Bots project.

The project launched in June 2008, is helping the University’s researchers develop inexpensive robotic assistants for aged care.

Previous research had found that attitudes and emotions are important when it comes to technology acceptance, but there has been little research undertaken about the acceptance of robots, said Dr MacDonald.

Dr Elizabeth Broadbent, Senior Lecturer in Psychological Medicine, says the study shows that researchers are on the right track and on average the attitudes and feelings of the robot users changed in a positive way after using the healthcare robot.

“Most people have never interacted with a robot – this is especially true of older people who did not grow up with computers, cell phones, and other modern technologies.

“Our previous research has shown that people’s expectations of what a robot looks like reflect what they have seen about robots in the media, for example C3PO from the movie Star Wars or the Daleks from Dr Who. These expectations form the basis for the feelings and attitudes people hold about robots before they have even met one,” said Dr Broadbent.

Dr MacDonald said the comments from residents and staff gathered during the study will also guide future robot changes.

“Many people suggested that the robot could provide access to things on the internet that are more difficult to use, including email, web searching, and web phone calls,” he said.

This latest study builds on earlier research that investigated what retirement village residents and staff want in a healthcare robot. The study’s findings are to be presented at a conference in Italy this week.

The Health Bots project operates in collaboration with Korea’s Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) and Yujin Robot. Seed funding for the Health Bots project was provided by UniServices, the University’s commercialisation arm, and ongoing funding is provided by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, as well as the Korean Government. It is anticipated eventually that sales of the robot will create new high-value export markets for New Zealand.

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