Socially Pertinent Robots

PAL Robotics ARI Robot
Courtesy of PAL Robotics Barcelona

SPRING: Socially Pertinent Robots in Gerontological Healthcare is an international collaboration that brings together eight research institutions from Europe and Asia. It's a four-year project (funded by the EU's Horizon2020) which will develop Socially Assistive Robots (SARs) with the capacity to perform multi-person interactions and social conversation for the first time. 

The project will develop new research into conversational AI, computer vision, machine learning and human-robot interaction, alongside human behaviour analysis and sensorimotor robot control, to develop a new multi-user conversational robot to enhance elderly healthcare. The work builds on the success of Heriot-Watt's Amazon Alexa Prize winning conversational AI system called Alana.

Social robot technology can have a positive impact on elderly health, such as decreasing stress and loneliness, and improving mood and sociability. Utilising social robots within healthcare settings can be highly beneficial, improving both the psychological wellbeing of elderly patients and the relationship between them and hospital professionals. One essential task they can undertake is helping to explain complex concepts to patients with limited medical knowledge.

SPRING looks to develop a robot which can manage group situations, with the ability to detect that there are several people in a room and engage in appropriate conversations based on its understanding that people have different roles, such as parent, carer, doctor, nurse. It would be able to identify patients who might have been waiting alone for a long time, or those who could be anxious, assessing who might need its assistance and engaging effectively in face-to-face conversation with patients, family members, staff members, and groups of people, as appropriate.

A robot with this capability and the skills to personalise its interactions would be a real asset in healthcare settings. The technology is touch-free and hands-free, so a robot like this would be particularly useful in lowering people's fears of cross-infection, as it can't spread disease. Its ability to interact with individuals and groups means it could take on public-facing duties – such as manning a hospital reception area and waiting room – and help to take the pressure off professional staff.

SPRING's partners include Università degli Studi di Trento, Czech Technical University Prague, Bar-Ilan University Tel Aviv, ERM Automatismes Industriels Carpentras, PAL Robotics Barcelona, and Hôpital Broca Paris.

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