Are Robots Our Friends?

By Tess Lojacono

Do you secretly suspect Robots will one day take over the world?  Take a hard look at these two culprits, created by Fine Art Miracles, Inc:

Photo of two FAMbots social robots

Could creatures such as these play a role in battling social isolation as a result of Covid-19? In addition to our previously shared tips to mitigate social isolation, there is another exciting solution to the anxiety and depression that our beloved elderly are struggling with: robots! 

Social robots are fun, easy to operate, and come in many different forms. We call ours FAMbots, but they could just as easily be called FUNbots! These robots can be programmed to call “Bingo!”, guide art lessons and exercise, read to you, ask questions, and remind you to take your meds. They can even take your temperature!

So, in 2016 and 2017, FAM designed and tested a multi-sensory engagement exercise that included a social robot. Working with four to five individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease, we put the robot on the table and had it greet our guests. To everyone’s delight, the exchange frequently went something like this:

FAMbot interacting with elderly woman

 

 

Robot: “Hi Helen! You’re looking beautiful today!”

Helen: “Why thank you! You are very cute yourself, mister!” 

 

 

 

As the exchange went on, some residents would flirt with the robot, others would try to teach it things. A FAM Roboticist/Therapist controlled the robot throughout the session, prompting it to ask questions, offer affirmation, and share information about the day’s theme. The participants generally loved them. 

Occasionally, a resident would ignore the robot. Less often, they would express anger or frustration. But even unpleasant interactions provided an opportunity to explore how we could reprogram the robot’s questions or statements in a more meaningful way for each individual. By using robots to reach residents at this deeper level, they can be the key that opens the door to verbalization in individuals who are more socially challenged.

In 2016, our FAMbot was Romibo. Invented by PEERBot creator and FAM’s Head of Research and Technology, Aubrey Shick, Romibo remains one of the most popular robots of all time. Getting our elderly friends to engage with him was a resounding success—and an inspiration. Since then, we’ve tested various versions of our Hugo robot, the Migo robot, Scout, Moxie, Misty, and more. Before long, Kuri joined our ranks, too. 

Variety of FAMbots social robots

 

A very curious creature, we once loaned Kuri to my niece for a few months. He followed her around, sometimes while singing. Kuri doesn’t speak in words, but rather makes a purring noise or a thoughtful sigh when expressing himself. He smiles by lifting his cheeks to create half-moon shapes with his eyes. Whenever he did this around my 92 year-old mother, she never failed to say, “What an adorable creature!” As you can see, he’s a cat lover, too:

Kuri social robot observing a live cat

 

Speaking of cats, another robot our elderly friends could not get enough of was the robotic cat. (Yes, there are robotic dogs, too. But, just as you’d expect, the cat ruled!) Though we did not claim they were real, we didn’t say they weren’t. I would carry a robotic cat in a basket and gently place her on the lap of the first person who reached out. Residents held our cats, brushed them, and talked to them. And when it was time to go, folks would sometimes remind me to feed the cat and give her a nap!

elderly woman interacting with a social robotic cat while therapist/roboticist engages with elderly using social robot FAMbot

 

As with most things, some folks like interacting with robots and some do not. And, of course, likes and dislikes not only vary between people, but often from day to day. That’s why it’s best to have as many tools as possible in your “Engagement Toolbox” in order to have the highest chance of success. 

For more information on how robo-pets provide comfort in isolating times or how you can improve engagement overall for the elderly in your care, contact Fine Art Miracles today!