University of Auckland: My ‘little friend’. Robots pass muster in retirement villages

An experiment tested how people in their 70s and 80s felt about robots helping with daily routines.

Experiment showed human-robot connection
“Well, I quite liked it!” said one person in a University of Auckland study. “I thought of it as a little friend that you could pat and talk to.’’

As the world ages, robots may help older adults with daily routines and even contribute to limiting a person’s cognitive decline.

In experiments at two Auckland retirement villages, a robot called Bomy stayed for up to seven days in people’s homes, reminding when medication or exercise were due, and delivering games to stimulate cognition or improve memory.

When increasingly tech-savvy generations of today end up in rest homes “they are going to be expecting this kind of technology,” Professor Broadbent says
In general, residents accepted and appreciated the robot, their answers to the researchers’ questions showed. Unexpectedly, some people patted or talked to the robot, treating it as a companion.

The research, carried out at the Selwyn Heights and Selwyn Village retirement villages and published in the journal Assistive Technology, was led by Professor Elizabeth Broadbent, of the Department of Psychological Medicine in the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences.

When the increasingly tech-savvy generations of today end up in rest homes “they are going to be expecting this kind of technology to help them,” Professor Broadbent told Radio New Zealand in an interview. “They’re going to be a lot more au fait and familiar with it.’’

Robots that perform a wide range of daily tasks will be able to improve an elderly person’s quality of life, as well as reducing burdens on the health system and families, she said. Robotic help is an addition to human companionship and support, not a replacement, the professor believes.

Professor Bruce MacDonald, of the Centre for Automation and Robotic Engineering Science, and Dr Ho Seok Ahn played key roles in the study. The university collaborated with South Korea’s Ewha Womans University and the project was supported by Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy.