How to design robot solutions for elderly care challenges: 8 lessons learned from a ten-week case study in a German care home

While exploring robot solutions to help in care homes, Prof. Volker Wulf, head of the PADERO research network, recently published a study 'Exploring Human-Robot Interaction with the Elderly: Results from a Ten-Week Case Study in a Care Home' together with his fellow researchers at the University of Siegen, Germany. The German researchers share surprising results in their study – and 8 major lessons learned.

8 lessons learned from exploring robot-human interactions in a German nursing home:

  1. Care home residents enjoyed the interaction with the robot Pepper and engaged with it during 20 one-hour sessions in total. Despite initial hesitations, they soon accepted Pepper as a training guide and followed its instructions in physical exercise and gaming situations, although human intervention was occasionally necessary.   
  2. Robots should not replace caregivers, according to the residents.  Residents liked interacting with the robot but only as an additional 'leisure time' offer. Caregivers overcame initial hesitations towards a potential 'robotic assistant' when they realised robots could never fully replace them. In fact, caregivers can accept a robot like Pepper as a support tool for specific activation tasks, but not for real, intimate, or medical care work.
  3. Whether residents engage with the robot or not depends significantly on having a group setting. This was evident when the group members relied on each other to make sense of the robot's behaviours in situations when individual older adults did not know what to do. Furthermore, the group often laughed together, which probably would not have happened if they had been alone. The researchers assume social bonds might have played an important role.  
  4. The participants' trust in the study and in the robot was higher when the researchers included the caregivers in setting and developing the course. The researchers believe the residents would otherwise engage to a lesser extent.  
  5. The current state of Pepper's speech recognition, navigation and touchscreen has its technical limitations in terms of accessibility for the participants. This made it necessary to improve the robot's control by a moderator or by employing the 'Wizard of Oz' method which involves a hidden human being actually operating the robotic system.
  6. 'Participatory design' and the 'iving lab approach' were adopted to gain an understanding of the needs, attitudes and practices of the older adult participants. They yielded significant insights into how such a robotic system should be designed and what purposes it might serve.
  7. The robot and its algorithms are not transparent for the residents and the caregivers. In their eyes, the robot is a complex technical device over which they have no control, and they fail to account for all its actions.  Researchers hope the gap might be filled by adopting the end-user development method.
  8. moderating person is needed to facilitate interaction with the robot. The person's task could include explaining how certain applications work, moving the robot from one place to the other or motivating the participants to interact with the robot.

Read the abstract Exploring Human-Robot Interaction with the Elderly: Results from a Ten-Week Case Study in a Care Home.

Read PADERO's previous articles Nursing shortages: How robots can provide a cure and Neglect of care sector's needs prevented use of robots in nursing homes.



PADERO (Participatory Design in Robotics for Elderly Care)
Chair of Business Informatics and New Media
University of Siegen

Felix Carros

Kohlbettstraße 15
57072 Siegen