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New research investigates the potential of culturally aware robots


Mon 30th January, 2017

Care for the elderly could be revolutionised through a €2.5m ground-breaking international study to build culturally aware robots.

The University of Bedfordshire and Middlesex University London will be part of an international three year research project to develop and evaluate the world’s first culturally aware robots aimed at assisting in caring for the elderly.

The expertise of both universities in the fields of cultural competence and evaluation were recognised as vital components for the study.

The research group will meet for the first time in London on 30 and 31 January 2017 to develop the project.

The research is jointly funded by the EU and the Japanese Government within the H2020 research and innovation programme and coordinated by Professor Antonio Sgorbissa from the University of Genova, Italy. It will involve global researchers* with backgrounds including Robotics, Human-Robot Interaction, Artificial Intelligence, Transcultural Nursing, and Health Technology Evaluation along with the world leading Robotics Company, Softbank, and Advinia Healthcare Limited care homes.

This is the first time researchers have explored the possibility of developing culturally aware robots. The project will expand the capabilities of the Pepper robot, which is designed and marketed by Softbank Robotics.

Dr Chris Papadopoulos, a Principal Lecturer in Public Health from the University of Bedfordshire, will lead a team that will test and evaluate the robots’ impact upon care home clients’ health and wellbeing.

He said: “The project is truly ground-breaking. Building culturally aware Pepper robots that can autonomously re-configure their interactions to match the culture, customs and etiquette of the person they’re caring, means that they are more likely to be accepted by elderly clients.

“The impact upon wellbeing we hope to observe includes boosting independence, reducing loneliness and ultimately improving quality of life. This should also relieve the burden that carers often carry and relieve some of the pressure hospitals and care homes face.”

Irena Papadopoulos, Professor of Transcultural Health and Nursing, at Middlesex University London will be responsible for developing the cultural concepts and guidelines so that the robots will be able to response to the culture-specific needs and preferences of elderly clients.

She said: “As people live longer health systems are put under increasing pressure. In the UK alone, 15,000 people are over 100 years of age and this figure will only increase. Assistive, intelligent robots for older people could relieve pressures in hospital and care homes as well as improving care delivery at home and promoting independent living for the elderly. It is not a question of replacing human support but enhancing and complementing existing care.

“In order for robots to be more acceptable to older people it is essential that they can be programmed to adapt to diverse backgrounds and this is where my expertise in Transcultural Nursing comes in. Care robots that are culturally aware are likely to meet with greater acceptance from both the older people and their carers.

“This is very exciting and innovative research and Middlesex University London is proud to be part of it. Robotics and artificial intelligence is changing all the time and it is essential that we maximise the opportunities they offer.”

The capabilities of the robot will include:

  • Communicating through speech and gestures
  • Moving independently
  • Assisting an individual in performing everyday tasks (helping with to-do lists, keeping track of bills, suggesting menu plans)
  • Providing health-related assistance (reminding an individual to take their medication, do their physical exercise, or raise the alarm in emergencies)
  • Providing easy access to technology (internet, video calls, smart appliances for home automation)
  • Providing entertainment (reading aloud, playing music and games).

Amit Kumar Pandey, Head Principal Scientist and Principal Investigator for the project at Softbank Robotics, said: "Personal social robots are going to be the next big thing in the history of robotics technology. And SoftBank Robotics is committed is committed to creating an intelligent and embodied eco-system of living, where robots will coexist with us in harmony, for a smarter, healthier, safer and happier life.

"Our Pepper robot is already being used in thousands of homes and the Romeo humanoid robot aims to be a companion for everyday life for people needing assistance. We look forward to working with our partners on this project to develop culturally-aware robots that are suitable for supporting older people.”

Dr Sanjeev Kanoria, Executive Chairman, Advinia Healthcare Ltd said: “Advinia Healthcare is proud to be a joint partner in this initiative to revolutionise the care of the elderly by supporting hard working care workers.

“Robots can support care workers by helping to reduce errors in medication and assisting them with advanced technology to help vulnerable residents, live safer independent lives in care homes and at home.”

In the final year of the project the robots will be tested at Advinia Healthcare care homes in the UK, the HISUISUI care home in Japan and the iHouse facility in Japan.

  • Joint/EU Coordinator: University of Genova, Italy (Robotics, Artificial Intelligence), Professor Antonio Sgorbissa,
  • Other EU Partners: Middlesex University London, UK; University of Bedfordshire, UK; Softbank Robotics Europe, France; Advinia Healthcare Limited, UK
  • Japan Coordinator: Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (Human-Robot Interaction, Smart Home Automation), Professor Nak Young Chong,
  • Other Japanese partners: Nagoya University, Chubu University

Bedfordshire University

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