Empathic robot helps older people

The population is getting older and lonelier with age. Salzburg Research is developing software for an empathic robot that will help older people stay independent and healthy longer with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) and an individually tailored program.

Loneliness, pain, reduced mobility and increased illness in old age can lead to negative moods, a loss of motivation and sometimes even depression. This is where “Buddy”, a friendly, empathetic robot, comes in. It is developed to be a companion and contact person for older users, as well as to offer the scientifically proven benefits of motivation and coaching regardless of time. Emotion recognition and artificial intelligence help to ensure that the given advice is actually personalized, empathetic and accurate.

Empathy through AI

The friendly and sensitive robot “Buddy” is designed to support older people around the clock, offering suggestions and reminders depending on the situation. In order to do this, Buddy should recognize what the person needs from their facial expressions and language style and respond to it in a tailor-made way.

Salzburg Research is currently surveying the needs of older people and is training artificial intelligence for emotion recognition. “We are developing the robot’s functionalities in close cooperation with future users so that we can ensure that the elderly actually benefit,” says Oliver Jung from Salzburg Research.

Buddy-Roboter mit Forscher Oliver Jung (c) Salzburg Research
Robot Buddy with researcher Oliver Jung (c) Salzburg Research

Salzburg Research integrates the Robot Operating System (ROS) and advanced capabilities of the Buddy Robot to support speech processing and the design of empathic responses. With the help of “Just in Time Adaptive Interventions”, people are to be supported in adapting behavior patterns depending on the situation – for example, in the form of encouragement to get up and move after a long period of sitting. Appropriate interventions are selected and adapted to deliver the correct type and amount of support at the right time. With the help of artificial intelligence, the specially developed intervention design will increasingly adapt over time to the condition of the person being cared for as well as the respective context.

Independent life with Buddy

There is currently no robot on the market that integrates complex emotional interactions and can be a true companion in an elderly person’s home. Buddy by Blue Frog Robotics was developed to help and assist people in their daily lives with a first focus on markets with a strong societal impact such as education and inclusion. In this research, the robot is being further developed by Salzburg Research and partners from the Netherlands and France to become a companion for older people that can offer empathetic responses through advanced speech processing and emotion recognition. The robot with the advanced capabilities will be tested in 2025 with about 100 people in Austria, the Netherlands and France. The research project Buddy-BeWell is funded by the Eureka Eurostars program and the FFG.

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