Meet Pearl the Nursebot. “She” is being shown in Denmark’s INDEX (yes, all in caps) design show, the result of an interdisciplinary team of researchers and designers at Carnegie-Mellon. From a techie robotics standpoint, Pearl is no great shakes. The real research going on here is in the field of “social robotics” – seeing just how well people and robots can get along. The team reports that the biggest hurdles have been Pearl’s small vocabulary and very machine-like AI.
The goal of the NurseBot project is to develop mobile, personal service robots that assist elderly people suffering from chronic disorders in their everyday life. “Pearl”, the NurseBot is an autonomous mobile robot that “lives” in a private home of a chronically ill elderly person. The robot provides a research platform to test out a range of ideas for assisting elderly people, such as: What would you like to have a robot help out with around the house?
Some observers noted that having a more expressive countenance seems to be an advantage, but if the robot becomes “too humanlike, it can creep people out.”
The question of “how human should a robot look” has great implications on how effective and accepted robotic assistants can be.
…The intelligent reminding component of the robot reminds its owner to eat, drink water, take medicines, and go to the bathroom. According to Matthews, the robot would also provide a platform for telemedicine; the patient’s doctor could use the robot to connect remotely with the patient. At the same time, the robot could collect information to supply to the health care practitioner.
Social interaction and mobile manipulation may be some of the biggest challenges. Pearl has a mapping capability that allows her to sketch out a map of the room in which she is placed, Matthews said.
Some of the Nursebot researchers have done some field-testing with Pearl in a Pittsburgh-area retirement community. They asked the residents to provide feedback on the robot. A group of residents gamely talked to the robot, answered questions, and accepted candy from a dish in the robot’s proffered “hand.”
So far, the feedback has been very positive, according to Matthews.
“There’s a novelty to it,” she said. “People can talk at dinner about how they talked to a robot.”
While anthropomorphic robotic assistants (movie link) are certainly the wave of the future (could TV and Sci-Fi be wrong?), I’m not sure aid-dependent senior citizens are the ideal beta-testing population.
More from Carnegie Mellon University’s People and Robots Laboratory…