Medical Robotics

Senior Citizens in Japan Bored with Robots

Posted 20 Sep 2007 at 18:30 UTC (updated 20 Sep 2007 at 18:32 UTC) by steve Share This

The Japanese plan to build care-taker robots to help with their aging population may have run into a problem. A recent Reuters report suggests senior citizens quickly become bored with the simple robots so far introduced into nursing homes. "The residents liked ifbot for about a month before they lost interest. Stuffed animals are more popular." Ifbot is a small robot that can converse, sing, express emotions, and even present trivia quizzes to senior citizens. According to the article the robot has spent most of the past year sitting in a corner, unused. Another robot, Hopis, that looked like a furry pink dog has gone out of production due to poor sales. Hopis was designed to monitor blood sugar, blood pressue, and body temperature. One problem may be that both robots are little more than advanced toys. Neither can help elderly people with day-to-day problems they face such as getting around their house, reading small print, or taking a bath. The elderly have found utilitarian improvements in existing devices more useful: height-adjustable countertops or extra-big control buttons on household gadgets. Whether seniors will find robots that can help with their utilitarian needs more to their liking than fluffy pupbots that sing remains to be seen.

no one could possibly have predicted this!, posted 21 Sep 2007 at 14:01 UTC by dpa » (Master)

You mean those robots are not really substitutes for real flesh-and-blood companions? Not even the ones that can "express emotions?" But those old people name their Roombas! Surely that's the same as having a Border Collie puppy, right? ;)

Human requirment for interaction with biological beings, posted 21 Sep 2007 at 17:15 UTC by Rog-a-matic » (Master)

This SOOO highlights one of the fundamental needs of humans: interaction with other living beings, and it appears to be important that the being is biological, not mechanical/electronic. I suppose this need could be tricked by a biological-looking and acting machine, for a while anyway.

Something in my memory says there was a movie that presented the viewer with this issue. Long time ago.


re: no one could possibly have predicted this!, posted 21 Sep 2007 at 18:45 UTC by steve » (Master)

I thought you'd like that story. :)

Robotos Turing the Future, posted 22 Sep 2007 at 01:20 UTC by The Swirling Brain » (Master)

Perhaps there should be a Turing Test for bots? Like have a test to see if the average person could tell if they were talking to a bot or a human. If you can't tell right off that it's human or robot then perhaps a robot could really become a friend? Of course we're no where near that level of smarts. It would be a very premature test. Really, the robots of today can't much trick anyone at all into believing they're human much less holding ones attention for long. It's no wonder the seniors who have seen it all aren't impressed for long either when all these robots appear to be are rolling trivia gadgets. Like BORING! No real interaction there to speak of or write home about! It was however a nifty experiment to see how seniors would react to robots. Now, robot builders will have to take their robots to the next level if they are to be impressive or useful at all. It's a future dream for AI to grow to that level. So far it has been far out of reach. I still have hope that it will happen in my lifetime, tho. But not today.

Elderbots, posted 22 Sep 2007 at 04:26 UTC by Nelson » (Journeyer)

To be perfectly honest, I think that the whole myth that robots will be taking care of the elderly is a long, long way off.


High expectations, poor design., posted 22 Sep 2007 at 19:37 UTC by MDude » (Journeyer)

I don't think "fooling us into thinking they're humans/biological creatures" isn't a requirement for robot comanions, but beyond that I do agree with much of the above comments, in that both robots have some problems, although to me they seem more like poor design practice than any universal trait of machines.

Ibot, for instance, seems alright at first with some attention-grabbing features, like the ability to recodnise speech, roll, talk, and ask trivia questions. But it dosn't hold attention after a month, and from what I've seen, or rather, what I haven't, I don't think it was made to. No mention of memeory or wit lead me to beleive this attempt at mechanical freindship has no better conversasional ability than an Alicebot, and would be unable to recall what you were talking about two minutes ago, let alone look back with fondness or despair on the past few day's events, or keep up with social happenings like I would expect of a social robot. There are some other expectatoins it's probably not meeting, but the main problem seems to be that whoever made the programming for this either neglected to think of what he or someone he knew would think of this bot after more than a few weeks, or was to constrained by tome or hardware to do anything about it.

The Hopis, on the other hand, looks more like a dermoid cyst with a night light stuck in it than any puppy I've ever seen, and is so much of an artistic failure that I feel sorry for whoever had to produce the technology to make this thing appealing. The idea that this is considered as a representatoin of robotic companions sickens me.

To me, though, the future in robotics in the lives of the elderly is in Ri Man, the HRP series, and other helper bots that will be able to fill out teams of caregivers when the working class population grows thin. Although I do think a well-desined, well-made robot could indeed be a compainion, it would be a lot easier to make a robot that helps you take care of the bioligical pets we already have.

Tales of the expected, posted 24 Sep 2007 at 12:05 UTC by motters » (Master)

This is really expected for simple toy-like robots. It's the same pattern of interaction which any child has with a toy. Imagine if you bought a computer, but could never change the software on it or connect to the internet. It might be interesting at first, but the novelty would soon wear off.

To be a "companion" a robot needs to have some form of ongoing dynamic personality, with an autobiographical memory, so that its state is always changing.

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