SOCRATES, robotics focused on cognitive decline and dementia
SOCRATES is a research program promoted by the European Commission on social robotics, especially focused on the elderly. It is composed of 15 PHD students, more than 20 senior researchers from 7 different European universities, and 8 companies or centers, including Fundació ACE.
To learn more about the project, we spoke with Guillem Alenya and Antonio Andriella, from the Institut de Robòtica i Informàtica Industrial CSIC-UPC.
1. What hypothesis does the SOCRATES Project seek to test?
We started the project from the need of caregivers to have advanced tools that stimulate people with cognitive deficits. In this sense, we believe that robots, which we program so that they adapt to the needs of people and help them in different ways, can be very convenient.
So, taking the excuse of a cognitive stimulation game -a board of pieces that must be ordered-that has been designed in collaboration with Fundació ACE, we generate interactions so that the robot helps the person with cognitive decline to overcome the challenge.
2. What type of robot do you build in the SOCRATES project?
We use a TIAGo robot by PAL Robotics, which is part of the consortium. This robot has many capabilities that we use, such as a manipulator arm, cameras and speech capability. We are focused on making the robot change its behavior depending on the reactions of the people to help them to finish their task as well as possible.
Thus, the robot remembers the task, encourages, gives clues and even handle the pieces if they are misplaced. In addition, the caregiver can configure the behavior of the robot to make things easy, in order to motivate, or make it difficult, in order to challenge.
The next step will be to test the robot in a day hospital, and we do not rule out that in the future people with cognitive decline will be allowed to take the robot home to help them with the homework given by the therapist.
3. How can a robot help an Alzheimer's patient?
The scientific community believes that robots will have a very important role in most tasks of daily life, such as eating, dressing, cleaning, giving support, or encouraging social contact. In addition, for people with Alzheimer's and other dementias, robots will also have a relevant role in the stimulation of cognitive activities.
Moreover, with our project we try to show that the robot can also help caregivers and doctors, offering accurate and first-hand information about the people with cognitive decline.
4. What is the general reaction of users when looked after by robots?
The novelty effect is very important, and at the beginning, everyone is very happy. However, the hypothesis that we want to validate, with long-term experiments carried out at Fundació ACE, is the beneficial effect of these robots when the initial novelty is gone.
At this point it is important not to create false expectations: the current robots, on the contrary to what we are used to see in movies, are able to do few things, act slowly, and do not make too many variations.
5. Do you think that robots can be a solution to the increase if people diagnosed with dementia predicted for 2050?
Surely yes. Anyway, we need to forget the idea of a robot capable of doing anything. The robots, like the current machines and appliances, will be oriented to specific tasks.
6. Do you think that in the future people can be largely replaced by robots in the field of health care, as it is already happening in other sectors?
I do not think so. Looking after people requires a lot of intuition and common sense, which is very difficult to program. I believe that robots will be a tool that will help improve the quality of time that healthcare professionals devote to people. In addition, if we manage to make robots that help in daily tasks, we will favor the empowerment and independence of people with cognitive decline.
7. When do you reckon social robotics can become a reality for the day-to-day life of people with dementia?
We have already very close the Social robotics that does not require contact, where the robot is little more than a wrapper for an artificial intelligence. However, it is much more difficult to see the Social robotics that requires contact, where the robot has to pick up objects, interact physically with people, or interact with the equipment. For this last one, it will still take a while to see anything beyond research prototypes.