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Seniors less comfortable with ‘caring’ robots

GEORGIA TECH (US) — Older adults are more than willing to have robots help them with household chores, but prefer real people for more personal tasks, like getting dressed and bathing, research shows.

After showing adults ages 65 to 93 years a video of a robot’s capabilities, researchers asked them about their willingness for assistance with 48 common household tasks. Participants generally preferred robotic help over human help for chores such as cleaning the kitchen, doing laundry, and taking out the trash. But when it came to help getting dressed, eating, and bathing, the adults tended to say they would prefer human assistance over robot assistance.


They also preferred human help for social activities, such as calling family and friends, or entertaining guests.

“There are many misconceptions about older adults having negative attitudes toward robots,” says Cory-Ann Smarr, a graduate teaching assistant in the School of Psychology at Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech).

“The people we interviewed were very enthusiastic and optimistic about robots in their daily lives. They were also very particular in their preferences, something that can assist researchers as they determine what to design and introduce in the home.”

The findings were presented last week at the Human Factors Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting in Boston.

Smarr and Wendy Rogers, professor of psychology and the principal investigator on the project, also noticed that preferences varied across tasks, such as medication. For instance, adults said they are willing to use a robot for reminders to take medicine, but they are more comfortable if a person helps them decide which medication to take.

“It seems that older people are less likely to trust a robot with decision-making tasks than with monitoring or physical assistance,” says Rogers. “Researchers should be careful not to generalize preferences when designing assistive robots.”

The older adults in the study were all healthy and independent, and nearly 75 percent said they used everyday technologies such as cell phones and appliances. Many said they don’t need immediate assistance. The research team is planning future studies for adults who currently need help with everyday tasks.

This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Source: Georgia Institute of Technology

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