How well can robots mimic humans to help the latter complete their everyday tasks in an unobtrusive way? What is the ideal interface between human and machine?
Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Beersheva, Israel, are going to find out the answers to these and other questions. Using a grant from Israel's Ministry of Science, Technology and Space's Science for the Benefit of Senior Citizens Program, Dr. Tal Oron-Gilad, a researcher in BGU's Department of Industrial Engineering and Management, and Dr. Idit Shalev, a researcher in BGU's Department of Education, are working on a project to advance assistive robotics that will help the elderly, particularly those with disabilities or limited mobility, complete everyday tasks. The robots are designed to keep older adults independent as long as possible.
The objective of the project, "Follow Me: Proxemics and Responsiveness for Following Tasks in Adaptive Assistive Robotics," is to advance "robotic adaptive person-following" algorithms (APFA) to include concepts from human-human interaction. The aim of the project, which will focus on improving older users' well being and generate guidelines for future users' attentive robotic assistants, is to develop robots that are highly individualized to the special needs of each elderly user. Algorithms are going to include social factors and are going to adjust to user pace, abilities and actions while taking into account the characteristics of the environment and the task, as well. By achieving this objective, the researchers hope to accomplish better well-being for those being cared for, as well as personalized care depending on the special needs of each individual. The robotic project's final outcomes will encompass guidelines for future implementations of the technology and demonstrations.
As Dr. Oron-Gilad explained, "While most person-following algorithms focus on the effectiveness and efficiency of the robot, what is unique about our approach is that we focus on the effectiveness of the human-robot interaction by introducing constructs related to proximity in human-human interaction. In other words, the robots' behavior will be modeled on how humans interact with each other."
Dr. Oron-Gilad, who earned her MSc in 1997, from The Techion, Israel Institute of Technology, and her Ph.D. in 2003, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, understands man-machine interactions, traffic patterns and human perceptions of the world around them. Her other research projects at BGU have included traffic safety: hazard perception; hazard perception training for novice drivers; assessment of driver skill; driver fatigue; passive fatigue and alertness maintaining hysteresis (recovery from stress) in driving; utilization of in-vehicle systems; in-vehicle navigation aids; aesthetics, usability and situation awareness while driving; tactile displays; human factors in the military domain: scalable displays for dismounted soldiers; information presentation and multimodal displays: multisensory environments and attentional models related to multimodality especially tactile displays; and hedonomics (the science of maximizing happiness) and well-being.
Dr. Oron-Gilad said that person-following is an important aspect in assistive robotic applications. At the same time, it is "a complex problem to solve." While she thinks that robotic platforms should move efficiently and have enough power to carry objects, she understands that the people that they need to follow vary in their mobility and the way they walk. Thus, as she explained, the human-robot system must adapt to the individual and be able to maintain the appropriate distance and responsiveness, especially for older users who may be more vulnerable, more skeptical and less technology savvy.
According to Oron-Gilad, "Robots can assist the elderly in everyday tasks as they seek to age independently. Nevertheless, the introduction of assistive robotics into seniors' daily life will be dependent upon user acceptance, satisfaction and affordability. The approach is predicated on the effectiveness of the human-robot interaction. It creates parameters involving human-human interaction in space."
Experimental Programs in Robotics to Help the Elderly:
- Ben-Gurion University, Beersheva, Israel, with a grant from Israel's Ministry of Science, Technology and Space's Science for the Benefit of Senior Citizens Program, to advance "robotic adaptive person-following" algorithms (APFA) to include concepts from human-human interaction
- Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), Worcester, Massachusetts, with an award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to investigate and build robots to help elderly people with disabilities to shop and carry a purse, as well as to provide companionship
- Oklahoma State University, Sillwater, Oklahoma, with an award from the National Science Foundation, to develop a robot smart enough to help care for older adults without getting in their way
- Aalborg University, Aalborg, Denmark, for the development of a lifelike robot to understand the boundaries between robots and humans to care for the elderly and the disabled
- Waseda University, Kyoto, Japan, for the development of a robot that can help an elderly person out of bed and into a wheelchair, to pick up a straw and put it into a drink and eventually to help around the kitchen and with shopping