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Robots for the Elderly

This particular article discusses some of the design decisions made when building robots for the elderly.

Many of the design decisions are non-obvious or were made for non-obvious reasons. There is a lot to learn from this one implementation of a robot for the elderly.

  • Intuition Robotics opted for a companion robot that does not perform menial tasks, because loneliness and isolation have a more significant impact on longevity and well-being. The elderly don’t participate on social media platforms as significantly as younger generations, and so they miss out on a lot of the family interaction, which leads to those feelings of isolation and loneliness. A companion robot can help ameliorate some of those emotions.

  • Many people don’t use or fear technologies that they don’t understand, so personal assistants like alexa and google home don’t get used. If the robot is engaging with the elderly, this can create interaction, which can ease frustration and tension with the device, especially over time.

  • The robot lacks eyes and hands to avoid being threatening. A lot of consideration should go into physical design of a robot that interacts with the elderly, because perception has an impact on acceptance.

  • The robot was designed to function like a dog, joyful, loyal, but no too smart, because the creators wanted to encourage empathy from the people who interacted with it. For many, it is easier to build bonds with someone who inspires empathy.

  • The robot is designed to be apologetic and humble to reinforce the empathy that people would feel toward it. The robot will say I’m sorry and lower it’s head when it makes a mistake, claiming that it is still young and learning.

  • The robot includes variance to keep the interest of the people who interact with it. It has 20 ways to say good morning, and it speaks new phrases every day. This keeps the interactions fresh, and it encourages people to keep engaging with it. In the case of a robot for the elderly, a good design will promote long-term engagement and long-term use. Anything the robot can do to promote continued use increases the benefits derived from use.

  • The robot is designed to interact and encourage interaction when nothing has happened for long periods of time, because it’s important for people to stay active. The more people are engaged mentally and physically, the less they will lose over time. This is especially critical for the elderly who are losing mental and physical capabilities at much faster rates.

  • The robot also is equipped with the ability to call for help if someone falls in front of it. The robot cannot be a true companion if it cannot help when a human really needs it.

Anyone thinking of developing a robot for use by the elderly would do well to remember these design considerations. Can you think of any additional design considerations that you would include, if you were developing a skill for elderly people or designing a robot that interacts with elderly people?


Wow, that’s an extremely thoughtful design. Very impressed that they built the robot with so much sensitivity to elder needs.


I know this robotic seal was one that has been put to use in a number of nursing homes

The main thing they saw was that if the elderly were given the task of taking care of something (“feeding” it and petting it) then there was improvement in many areas of mood and memory and the sense of responsibility kept them engaged with something to look forward to. Also the seal was something that most people don’t have too much familiarity with so they could get away with it being less realistic as opposed to a dog or cat.


@station Have you ever personally interacted with the paro seal? If so, what did you think of it?

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I have not, wish I had. Then I could say odd things to people and get weird looks about petting robotic baby seals :stuck_out_tongue:

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There was also a startup in Minnesota (who really respected Sphero and learned about TechStars because of Sphero). I was trying to get him to ‘connect’, but he has not taken me up on doing a

Basically his focus is on younger kids and more of a psychology view:
- Stuffed animal with a Alexa in it
- Keep it simple
- Keep the cost around $30 for sale
- Used to build confidence/emotional development in kids
- Feed back to parents on how to help:
* Try playing a game like: A, B or C with child

I thought his ideas and work could benefit Misty and Ian/Sphero/Misty experience could benefit them. (Like the tracking data/usage/remote updates/out sourcing/China contacts).

Anyway, I also added
The MPU-6050 (gyroscope/accelerometer) or the MPU-9250
(gyroscope + accelerometer+ magnetic field [3 axis each])

  • Then you can also see how the stuffed animal is ‘treated’
    Adding a bend sensor:
  • This can give ‘hints’ based on on bending and accelerometer
    of what is happening thrown and hit something versus a ‘hug’.

But I had suggested besides kids work on elder care. Since companionship
is a major issue in the elderly. Other things that may be useful besides just
caring for a ‘robotic pet’ (it made me think of Tamagotchi Pets from 1997+)
Game play like Chess, conversation, noticing vital signs, noticing slurred speech,
changes in behavior and act as a personal assistant and inform a defined contact
(nurse at care center, family, etc) to check in.

I could imagine a similar ‘pet’ that would work with ‘at risk youth’ perhaps suicidal
concerns, part of programs or just someone that wanted help. To encourage,
interact, remind and/or contact someone. Also perhaps as a method to help the
kids/elderly do journalling [versus having to write it down]. Privacy should be taken
more seriously here (there was a alternative to Google, Alexa, Snips,, etc
that was suppose to do the server model but privately and in block chain).



For what it’s worth, @Dan has a Hasbro Joy For All Companion robot pet cat here in the office. I was shocked at what a good job they did with her. She was pretty darn compelling. And I have heard that she’s being used for companionship purposes.

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I saw the article with the Cat so I was happy to see it. I was not sure of
other functions. Of course I think it would be ‘odd’ if the pet talked, which
works with Misty. I am still thinking about the response to a normal pet,
but a ‘alien’ type pet may work (Something like Monsters Inc, cuddly, pet-able
and also okay to talk).

The first awareness for me of the Cat from Hasbro was Daria’s post:
Robots and Cats: Blurred Lines & Furred Encounters - MistyRobotics - Medium

And the @station post was the first I saw the ParoRobots elderly care robots.

I was pleased to see these, but I think there are still many value added things.
1. Perhaps multiple at home robots is better but interconnected.
- Pets do not talk :slight_smile: but can provide comfort and have sensors
that would feed into the ‘assisted living’.
2. More of a Misty like Robot could integrate that information for feedback, suggesting a game
or other activities or notify a support person.


I recently experienced something that gave me some ideas for a chatbot type service to assist seniors. This type of service could really suit any type of Internet accessible device but there could be some advantages to using something like Misty. The mobility would give it access to a range of people especially in an environment like a facility. And different facial expressions could accommodate different parts of a conversation to help the user understand the mood of its fellow conversant.