Friendly robots chat to pensioners after study finds they reduce loneliness

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Pepper the emotion-reading robot has got a new job chatting to pensioners.

The state-of-the art AI are being rolled out in care homes after a study showed they can reduce loneliness among residents.

Bosses at UK dementia-care provider Advinia Health Care say they are "working towards bringing the robot into routine care" after Pepper passed her "probation".

The semi-humanoid robot reads real human emotions by analysing voice tones and facial expressions.

But she was sacked for incompetence just one week after being hired as a supermarket service bot in Edinburgh, Scotland, two years ago.

Now researchers looking into developing the first-ever "culturally competent" robots found elderly residents responded well to her.

The study, involving the University of Bedfordshire, Middlesex University and Advinia Health Care, found the presence of SoftBank Robotics' droid improved OAPs' mental health after two weeks.

Residents reported a "small but positive impact on loneliness severity" after using her for up to 18 hours each.

Lead author Dr Chris Papadopoulos, from the University of Bedfordshire, said: "This study is ground-breaking because it is the largest ever investigation into the use of autonomous social robots for older adults in care settings.

"The results show that using the Caresses artificial intelligence in robots such as Pepper has real potential benefit to a world that is witnessing more people living longer with fewer people to look after them.

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"Poor mental health and loneliness are significant health concerns and we have demonstrated that robots can help alleviate these."

Irena Papadopoulos, professor of transcultural health and nursing at Middlesex University, was in charge of making Pepper better adapted the residents' needs, or "culture".

She said: "Socially assistive, intelligent robots for older people could relieve some pressures in hospitals and care homes.

"No-one is talking about replacing humans – the evaluation demonstrates that we are a long way from doing that – but it also reveals that robots could support existing care systems."

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And Dr Sanjeev Kanoria, surgeon, founder and chairman of Advinia Health Care, one of the largest providers of dementia care in the UK, revealed plans to make Pepper part of "routine care".

He said: "Robots were tested and improvements in functionality made following trials at Advinia care homes.

"This is the only artificial intelligence that can enable an open-ended communication with a robot and a vulnerable resident.

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"We are working towards implementing this into routine care of vulnerable people to reduce anxiety and loneliness and provide continuity of care.

"The robot was tested in Advinia's care homes in the UK. Now we are working towards bringing the robot into routine care, so it can be of real help to older adults and their families."

Pepper robots are already sold in the UK where is even used in some office to perform tasks like greeting guests at reception, and the robots can also be seen helping visitors to some US and Canadian airports.

One gave a pre-recorded speech in Parliament about the future of Artificial Intelligence in education.

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Robots

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