Robotic Assistance In The Home For Elderly Care
October 26, 2012

How Do Older People Feel About Having A Robot Assistant In The Home

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

(After the article, read redOrbit's exclusive interview with researcher Cory-Ann Smarr.)

Throughout the last few decades, advances in the field of robotics have made these helper machines become quite sophisticated and valuable. As these robots have progressed, they´ve been able perform an ever expanding set of duties and tasks. They can carry soldiers into and out of battle zones, fight fires and even dance exotic, foreign dances, therefore, it´s only natural for some university researchers to begin looking for other means of employment for these bots.

Georgia Tech researchers began surveying older adults about how they would feel about having a robot around the house to help them with everyday activities and chores, such as doing the dishes, taking out the trash and reminding them to take their medications.

After surveying these older adults, the researchers discovered that those who had lived through the Great Depression, World War II and the 60s were a proud set, excited but generally unsure about keeping a robot butler.

These researchers showed adults aged 65 to 93 a video demonstrating all the many ways a robot could make their lives easier by lending a caring yet mechanical hand. After the video, these adults were asked how likely they would be to bring such a bot into their house to help with these tasks.

According to a statement from the university, these adults “generally” preferred the idea of a robot when it came to the dirty chores, such as dishes, laundry, trash and the like. These adults were not so keen on the idea of these robots helping them in other areas, however, such as bathing, eating or helping them get dressed. These adults not only said they preferred human assistance in these intimate and personal issues, they also said they´d rather have a breathing human help them put together social events and accompany them to other activities.

From these general results, it would appear as if older adults were only marginally excited about the possibilities of a robotic future.

Not so says Cory-Ann Smarr, a School of Psychology graduate teaching assistant at Georgia Tech.

“There are many misconceptions about older adults having negative attitudes toward robots,” explained Smarr. “The people we interviewed were very enthusiastic and optimistic about robots in their daily lives. They were also very particular in their preferences, something that can assist researchers as they determine what to design and introduce in the home.”

Principal investigator in this research and psychology professor Wendy Rogers went on to mention that these adults responded in different ways depending on the proposed task.

For example, the older adults who were interviewed had no issue with hypothetically asking these robots to act as an alarm, reminding them to take their medication. Their confidence in these machines began to waver, however, when the researchers asked them how they´d feel about a robot deciding which kind of medicine they should be taking.

“It seems that older people are less likely to trust a robot with decision-making tasks than with monitoring or physical assistance,” explained Rogers.

Smarr and Rogers hope their research will aid in the building and designing of these future helper robots, giving researchers a jumping off point from which to create robots which will not go unused in these senior citizens´ homes.

“Researchers should be careful not to generalize preferences when designing assistive robots.”