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Social Robots for Older Adults and Caregivers

Image Credits: PolyU, Press Release

The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) recently announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Hong Kong branch of a Japanese tech firm to provide intelligent interactive social robots for older adults and their caregivers.

A series of research projects will also be carried out to investigate the effects of using social robots on managing self-care and to encourage older adults’ proactive engagement in interpersonal activities to foster a physically and mentally healthy life.

In cooperation with the tech firm, Prof. Angela Yee Man LEUNG, Associate Head (Research) of the School of Nursing of PolyU, and her team from the School of Nursing have developed five social robots to provide companionship and support for the daily activities of older adults. The team will use the robots to conduct a series of research projects titled “Social Robots for Old Adults and Caregivers”.

Prof. Christopher CHAO, Vice President (Research and Innovation) of PolyU believes that the collaboration between PolyU’s School of Nursing and the tech firm will provide innovative solutions for the ageing population and ageing-in-place trend.

The first ongoing study, “The Presence of Humanoid Robots with Older Adults at Homes”, examines whether older adults would accept and enjoy interacting with robots at home, and the preliminary effect of the robots on loneliness, cognition, medication adherence, and mental and social well-being.

The study features AI robots that speak Cantonese for verbal interaction with older adults. Their key features are human-machine intelligent interactions, including older adults’ verbal instructions to the robots, such as turning on the TV news channels or music players or making phone calls to their family members and friends. In addition, at a pre-set time, the robots could give a warm and gentle reminder to older adults for some defined activities such as taking medication and having meals.

The Managing Director of the Hong Kong branch of the tech firm noted that the company’s Social Robots are developed for elderly care services, particularly the ‘Companion Robot’ for people with dementia to improve their social interaction and communication, which can also decrease the workload of caregivers. The robot can communicate interactively in Cantonese with human-like expressions, and it can also provide personalised settings for older adults with their personal preferences and usage habits, to provide humanised intelligent elderly care services.

The Dean of the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences of PolyU noted that this new research collaboration is a crucial step in investigating whether the use of technology in the form of social robots can help partially fill the gap of two-way interaction, which can also assist older adults in staying connected socially and maintaining good self-care.

Ageing-in-place is well documented as the trend and solution for an ageing population. It is believed that by using social robots, it will be possible to promote interpersonal communication and enhance the self-care ability of older adults living alone while helping them engage with the outside world. With the support of such innovative technology, older adults will be able to live healthily and independently and integrate into the community.

The cooperation agreement was signed by Prof. Christopher Chao, Vice President (Research and Innovation) of PolyU and the Managing Director of the Hong Kong branch of the tech firm.

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