Personal robots: what older people think

Are personal robots the next best thing for companionship for older people – is this what they want? A study carried out in the UK used three types of robot – abstract, pet, and human-like. Publicly available videos of the robots were used in the study.  As with all laboratory and simulated studies there is no guarantee that the results will play out in real life. Nevertheless, it offers a guide of older people’s attitudes to personal robots. 

In terms of companionship, older people liked the pet personal robot the most. The pet-like robot responds to human movement and sounds. Image of MiRo pet-like personal robot.

A white personal robot resembling a cat or dog with black ears and a red collar.

The participants were over the age of 60 years and living in the community, not residential care. The three types of robot were Afobot, MiRo, and Sanbot. Afobot is similar to Siri and Alexa in assisting with activities. MiRo is designed to interact at an emotional level and to respond to actions such as hand clapping and stroking. Sanbot is a human-like robot with a head, arms and a screen and uses face and voice recognition. 

Participants viewed publicly available videos of the three robots and then answered a questionnaire. The purpose of the study was to measure the attitudes of older people to the three types of personal robots. The researchers note that as the study participants were “young old”, attitudes might not be attributable to those 70 years and older. 

The researchers caution the results because participants did not interact with the robots face to face. This means they were not able to explore the robot’s behaviour and their own reactions. The study was conducted online towards the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The title of the study is, Measuring Older People’s Attitudes Towards Personal Robots.

From the abstract

It is important to have a way of measuring older people’s attitudes to personal robots and how they might support them. 249 older people in the UK  viewed videos of three different types of robots (abstract, pet, and humanoid). They rated their attitudes to each using a questionnaire.

Analysis revealed three components to attitudes to the personal robots, They were: Positive User Experience; Anxiety and Negative Usability; and Social Presence. There were significant differences between the three personal robots with the pet robot receiving the most positive attitudes.

These results help understand which robots may be useful in helping older people choose appropriate robots to support themselves.

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