Projects • 


Full Title
Exploring the Transfer of Agency to Older Adults in HRI

Aging of the population carries several concerns and challenges. There will be fewer young people to take care of our older adults. Long waiting lists will grow for homes for the elderly, nursing homes, and other care facilities. Most importantly, the wellbeing, happiness, and sense of self-worth of people in the later stages of life is at risk. Elders are often seen as a burden to society and their families. Previous work has looked at assistive robots as a way to allow people to live more independently at home or active in a care home. Examples include assistive robots that take the role of a nurse [Matthews, 2002; Mast, 2015] or companion [Sabelli11], and our own work with robots as exercise coaches in care homes [Caic, 2019; Avelino, 2018] or robots as promoters of routines and communication [Simão, 2019]. These approaches follow a paradigm where the robot is taking care of the person, is leading an activity, or promoting an interaction. While these are valid approaches to basic care and assistance, they do not empower people in achieving their own goals. The goal of this project is to explore the transfer of agency to older adults in human-robot interaction, as a way to empower them. How can we shift the agency that robots have to people, and help them do things that they value? One speculative example of this shift would be having a robot in a grandson’s home that the grandmother can control, while sitting in her chair, in a care home: looking at what the toddler is doing, having a chat about school, and offering milk and cookies through this skilful proxy. What do people value and how can robots support them in achieving their goals? How can older adults control or program a robot to perform tasks? What is the effect of this paradigm shift in people’s communication, sense or presence, and particularly, self-efficacy? Our vision is to advance research on human-robot interaction to facilitate a new type of relationship between elders and assistive robots. This relationship will be built on a deep understanding of human values and what is critical to older adults. Our previous work shows that values are manifested through interactions with products, and that this becomes more critical for elders as they experience physical, cognitive, and emotional decline [Forlizzi, 2004]. In addition, what elders value can change dynamically, even day to day, as elders experience decline [Dorfman, 1993]. In ShiftHRI, we will start by exploring important values and co-designing HRI scenarios that help people to fulfil them. This paradigm shift has the potential to significantly impact the research done in the area. Contrary to the state of the art, where most robots have strict predefined user interfaces and routines, shifting agency to older adults brings several challenges to the control of those robots and in the service they offer. To address the former, we will co-design multimodal control interfaces, with a focus on tangible components to lower cognitive barriers [Simão, 2020]. To the latter, we will enact a set of scenarios of co-located interaction, where the robot extends people’s reach, and telepresence, where the robot is remote and enables interaction with others at a distance. We seek to understand the impact of our designs on self-efficacy, social interaction, technology acceptance, and quality of life. To achieve these goals, we will employ a mixed methods approach, which will combine collaborative research and design done with elders and caregivers, iterative system development, and iterative evaluation through controlled field studies. We will leverage our existing relationships with elder care facilities, particularly Liga dos Amigos da Terceira Idade and Campus Neurológico Sénior, with whichwe have ongoing collaborations.
Our interdisciplinary team is well positioned to do this work, with expertise in robotics, accessibility, cognitive psychology, interaction design, and HRI. Work by the three institutions involved creates a unique opportunity to conduct this collaborative research: Tiago Guerreiro’s team focuses on the design of technologies to support older adults [Simão, 2019; Simão, 2020], on the co-design of novel interfaces to control robots [Pires, 2020; Cardoso, 2021], on promoting self-efficacy with human-powered assistants [Rodrigues, 2021], and on assistive robotics for people with disabilities [Guerreiro, 2019; Bonani, 2018]; Alexandre Bernardino’s team makes contributions to the field of autonomous robots [Dehban, 2019; Chambino, 2020; Sabater, 2021] and on assistive robotics for older adults [Caic, 2019; Avelino, 2018]; and Jodi Forlizzi’s team plays a fundamental role in the design of systems that promote inclusion and equity [Forlizzi, 2004], and on methodologies to design for inclusion [Zimmerman, 2007]. All in all, the team gathers the set of valences and expertise to attempt this high-risk/high-gain paradigm shift in the context of an exploratory research project.

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Principal Investigator at LASIGE
Tiago Guerreiro
Team at LASIGE