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Connecting the elderly with the digital world through a robotic agent

During the research on our field of Interest “Human-Robot Interaction” we came across a paper from the MIT regarding “Autom”- a weight-loss program. This paper proved that users are much more likely to bond with a robotic agent than with a screen-based agent. This was the starting point and theoretical foundation for our project.

Our hypothesis was that robots could act as an interface between man and technology (see Duffy B. R., 2003, p. 178), and should therefore be an especially suitable tool for people who have great difficulties with new technologies. With our BA project “Kompott” we attempted to prove this point.

In interviews with elderly persons, we observed that their inability to use modern ways of telecommunication often disconnects them from their relatives – especially their teenage grandchildren. They fear computers, and think of them as complicated machines.

We decided to build a small personal robot that enables the elderly to use modern means of telecommunication. In a technically driven area like robotics, design very often plays a minor role. For social robots, a positive and trustworthy appearance is crucial for them to be accepted by users.

In our user-centered approach, we began by interviewing six seniors to find out about their social network, their ways of communication, and studied how they communicate with whom. Later in the project we took our first cardboard prototype to two of our interview partners and let it stay at their homes for about a week, to see if the size and shape were appealing and if felt feel comfortable having the little fellow in their living environment. Getting very encouraging feedback, we built a working prototype which we then tested on an extreme user group – 80 to 90 year olds in an old people’s residency in Winterthur. There we tested if they were able to use the robot, understand its interface, and also tested font size and contrast.

Kompot was featured at Robot on Tour in 2013.

Mentors: Karmen Franinović & Max Rheiner