Robots with artificial intelligence (AI) have been tested in care homes in the UK and Japan. Initial tests show that the robots reduce loneliness and improve the mental health of elderly residents.
The robot, called Pepper, was developed for a project called CARESSES, which is trying to create robots that behave and speak like the people they’re helping. To do this, Pepper uses a new type of AI that gives it “cultural competence,” or the ability to adjust how it speaks to different people, taking things like age, culture and religion into account.
The robot is autonomous and can remember things about the people it talks to, ask questions and make suggestions for activities. It can play the radio and is also able to remind people about important dates or to take medication.
The test project, which ran from 2017 to January 2020, was funded by the European Union and the Japanese government. The study found that older adults who spent up to 18 hours over two weeks with the robot saw a significant improvement in their mental health and a small decrease in loneliness. However, only 45 people participated, so more research is needed to confirm the results.
“This study is groundbreaking because it is the largest ever investigation into the use of autonomous social robots for older adults in care settings,” said Dr. Chris Papadopoulos of the University of Bedfordshire, one of the universities that worked on the study. “Poor mental health and loneliness are significant health concerns and we have demonstrated that robots can help alleviate these.”
However, according to users, there were some problems, like distracting head and hand movements, not enough cultural awareness, and superficial conversations.
Papadopoulos told CNN that Pepper is still being developed and it would take two to three more years of research and development before similar robots could be used in care homes. He also said Pepper wouldn’t replace human carers, but could help to improve the mental health of the elderly.