The increasing prevalence of an ageing global population has led to a growing demand for innovative solutions in healthcare, including robotic assistance. As individuals age, there is a greater need for additional support to enhance their autonomy and overall well-being. Various healthcare challenges emerge, affecting both the quality of life and the specific care needs of older people, as well as the number of caregivers available to address this escalating demand. In response to these pressing issues, the integration of robots into healthcare emerges as a potential solution, aiming to provide support for an ageing population. Here, we talk more about our experiences at PAL Robotics in implementing assistive robots in real-life scenarios, in particular in healthcare and Ambient Assisted Living.
Flexible robots in a hospital environment in SPRING
The primary objective of EU project SPRING was to create and launch a brand new generation of robots flexible enough to adapt to the needs of the users, and not the other way around, operating in a hospital environment. Social robot ARI was tasked with various responsibilities in project pilots, including welcoming individuals in the hospital waiting room, assisting with check-in/out forms, announcing medical appointments, directing patients to their appointments, and entertaining visitors. Valuable insights and lessons were gleaned from pilot programs conducted within the hospital setting, providing essential feedback for the ongoing development of ARI to align with both user and hospital requirements. Notably, two specific use-cases—welcoming and patient guidance, as well as entertainment—were highly appreciated during these trials. An essential factor for the technology’s acceptability among medical personnel was the ease with which they could command the robot, highlighting the importance of integration into existing workflows.
Cognitive support through games in project SHAPES
In the SHAPES EU project, cognitive support was provided to older individuals including those in the early stages of dementia who were either living independently or in sheltered apartments. Part of the initiative included the incorporation of PAL Robotics’ social robot ARI into physiotherapy sessions or gaming rooms within care homes, with a focus on individuals aged over 65 with mild cognitive impairment. The program emphasised collaboration with psychologists for game design. Games were adapted to suit individual users, using unique face identification and encouraging prompts with expressive feedback. This comprehensive approach aimed to enhance cognitive abilities and provide tailored support to older individuals facing cognitive challenges.
Physical support with meal preparation in project ALMI
The primary objective of the EU project ALMI was to develop assistance for users with mild motor impairment in meal preparation at home, integrating support for daily life activities. In the realm of food preparation, the project pilots included PAL Robotics’ TIAGo robot and focused on understanding the demands of the task, creating a memory map of objects involved, and implementing mechanisms to detect and grasp objects effectively. TIAGo robot also extended its assistance to emergency situations, employing face tracking to monitor the user and detect falls, ensuring prompt help if needed. Additionally, the system was designed to provide support in using electrical appliances by detecting current tasks and identifying abnormalities in their execution. This framework aimed to enhance the independence of individuals with mild motor impairment in their daily meal preparation routines.
Reduce loneliness and increase engagement in project NHoA
The overarching goal of national project NHoA was to identify and address the needs of older individuals, and their caregivers, and thoroughly determine the specific requirements of the robotic application in order to provide effective support. A key focus in pilots was in mitigating situations of loneliness through robotic assistance, particularly within user homes and care homes in Extremadura and Barcelona, Spain. In project pilots, TIAGo robot aimed to monitor the environment, offer entertainment and enable remote health monitoring. Additionally, the system was designed to encourage both physical and cognitive training, to enhance the overall well-being of the target demographic.
Challenges, what works well, and ongoing developments with assistive robots
From our experiences in these projects, the challenges associated with the deployment of robots in real-world scenarios includes several key aspects. First and foremost are the technical challenges in translating theoretical advancements into practical, real-world applications. Additionally, the acceptability of robots by users and various stakeholders – overcoming any societal apprehensions, ethical considerations, and ensuring that the technology aligns with user preferences and expectations are essential for successful adoption.
In our recent project pilot experience, the following have worked well:
- Speech interaction in multiple languages
- Cognitive games with robots that provide encouragement
- Robots that deliver reminders, video calls, and welcome users
- Robots as a tool for promoting group activities
- Support in preparing meals in the kitchen safely through robotics.
The following are areas of ongoing development in assistive robots:
- Providing easier ways for non-tech users to work with the robot and teach the robot new games
- Focus on activities that promote interaction with other people
- Tighter collaboration with health personnel for robot design
- Better metrics to evaluate pilot deployment progress.
Diversity of stakeholders and robot acceptance
The diversity of stakeholders involved in project pilots, ranging from end-users to industry professionals and understanding and addressing the varying needs and concerns of these stakeholders is crucial for the effective implementation of robotic solutions.
In addressing the challenge posed by the diversity of stakeholders, one key initiative involves tailoring metrics to suit the specific needs and expectations of different stakeholders. By employing different metrics for diverse groups, we aim to capture a comprehensive understanding of their respective requirements and assess project progress effectively.
An ongoing challenge is to increase the acceptability of robots in each project pilot. To address this, we have for example conducted initial observation studies coupled with iterative adaptation processes to better understand and address the factors influencing robot acceptability. Our efforts have also focussed on increasing the expressiveness and proactiveness of the robots, and adapting their capabilities to different languages and cultures.
Additional project strategies involve conducting interviews in participants’ homes. These interviews provide valuable insights into user preferences, concerns, and expectations. Following this, an internal analysis of the interviews is performed, enabling us to identify key patterns and areas for improvement. We have also aimed to consistently prioritise robot co-design with various stakeholders throughout the development process of projects.
The assistive robots that took part in these projects were ARI the high-performance social robotic platform designed for a wide range of multimodal expressive gestures and behaviours, and TIAGo the mobile manipulator that combines perception, navigation, manipulation, and Human-Robot Interaction skills out of the box.
At PAL Robotics we partner in a number of collaborative projects with assistive robots in healthcare and Ambient Assisted Living, as well as projects covering areas such as agri-food, smart cities, factories of the future, Artificial Intelligence, and Industry 4.0 and 5.0. We are always on the lookout for new collaborations, to find out more about EU-funded projects or request information, visit PAL Robotics’ collaborative projects webpage and don’t hesitate to get in touch.