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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

User Acceptance of Service Robots

Robot guru Joe Engelberger proposed in 1997 that “robotic technology will not cope with bathing, toileting and dressing. Intimate action will still require human caregivers, be they loving relatives or home care professionals such as the Visiting Nurse Association. For the most part, the mobile, sensate, twoarmed, articulate robot will make possible independent self-care by a cognitive but physically handicapped elderly person. The nursing home would become a remote eventuality of last resort.” (1)

In 2004 Japanese nursing homes started experimenting with using robots to help care for the elderly. One of the most labor-intensive nursing home tasks is bathing frail residents. For this job, Sanyo Electric hade introduced a robot bathtub. Costing about $50,000, it closes around a patient who is seated in a wheelchair. The wash and rinse cycles operate automatically. A nurse's aide takes care of washing hair and toweling the resident off.

In 2006 Swedish researchers started studying the public opinion in Sweden towards service robots, both as a general domestic worker, and as a support for people with special needs. The result from two studies shows that that the design of the tasks for a robot servant might be less straightforward than suggested by Engelberger. Some of the commonly presumed tasks were not interesting to the majority of the informants, such as drink serving, or cooking.

The expectations on service robots from users are quite high, although not necessarily in terms of task complexity, but in terms of cooperative behaviour and trust. Safety issues are important, but to disabled users the concept of safety includes a large amount of recovery from failures. This becomes even more important when more autonomous intelligent service robots are constructed. Paper.

(1) Joe Engelberger. (1997). A project proposal. Service Robots, Personal Communication (Engelberger and Christensen).

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