Social Robots for Older People

Looking and how social robotic companions can foster independence and wellbeing in older people, then asking whether they should

In today’s ageing society, more people are living into advanced old age and choosing to live independently at home as they age – that is, to “age in place”. This trend has sparked concern about the best ways to care for and support older adults. Over the past decade, researchers and developers have proposed a number of technology-enabled “solutions” that aim to foster safety and independence for older adults who live alone (e.g., monitoring devices and emergency alarms). These solutions may provide effective monitoring, but they rarely address the need for social support. Both are important for emotional wellbeing and active ageing.

Emerging developments in social robotics have led to interest in their use in aged care; e.g., robotic pet Paro the seal has been widely used as a therapeutic tool in residential care. A newcomer in this space is Matilda, a robotic companion that can sing favourite songs, read books, play games, and even lead a social game of bingo. Matilda includes a camera that detects movement and collects activity data that can be shared with carers.

However, some researchers think that social robots like Matilda demean or infantilize older people. Others believe robots can enhance people’s autonomy. Exploring these complex issues requires an interdisciplinary combination of empirical and philosophical work.

Working in partnership with an aged care provider, we will deploy Matilda for a three-month field trial with a small group of older adults who live independently but receive home care services. Through activity log data, observations, and interviews with older adults and care providers, this project will explore the feasibility and acceptance of robots as companions for providing a sense of security and emotional/social support for older adults. Through a socio-technical lens, the project will examine the technical, social, and ethical challenges associated with using social robots in this setting.

Research Team

Funding

Seed Funding 2017