The USC Robotics Research Lab recently posted a journal paper online that appeared in the August 2012 issue of the Proceedings of the IEEE, titled Using Socially Assistive Human-Robot Interaction to Motivate Physical Exercise for Older Adults (PDF format). That title may give you visions of Bender chasing elderly people around the room with a deadly weapon; or perhaps Pusher and Shover robots. But what authors Juan Fasola and Maja j. Matarić are talking about is nothing like that. From the paper:
"This paper focuses on the design methodology, implementation details, and user study evaluations of a SAR system that aims to motivate and engage elderly users in physical exercise as well as social interaction to help address the physical and cognitive healthcare needs of the growing elderly population. SAR systems equipped with such motivational, social, and therapeutic capabilities have the potential to facilitate elderly individuals to live independently in their own homes, to enhance their quality of life, and to improve their overall health."
The robot, named Bandit, is a biomimetic anthropomorphic robot, which in this case means a vaguely humanoid torso mounted on a wheeled platfrom. The robot attempts to engage the elderly person in a variety of games, some of which involve making arm gestures and asking the human to imitate them. The robot observes and offers advice as they attempt to repeat the exercise. Studies of interactions with elderly volunteers seems to support the idea that the robot can succeed at motivating exercise in way humans find enjoyable. You can learn more about the project on the UCS Interaction Lab Robot Exercise System webpage. Read on to see photos and video of Bandit in action.