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Cover Story: Pearl the NurseBot Helps the Elderly at Home
Pearl the NurseBot: The Softer Side of Technology
What would you like to have a robot help out with around the house?
For the rising tide of elderly people, having a reliable assistant who can help with daily tasks and provide a level of companionship could be the difference between being able to live independently and being forced into a nursing home. It would also change the way health care is delivered, so these seniors could remain in their homes and enjoy a better quality of life for as long as possible.
These are the stakes for robots like Pearl the NurseBot.
Researchers are exploring important issues about what functions a robot assistant could provide to senior citizens—as well as learning more about the way people interact with a robot when they introduce more “human-like” characteristics.
Pearl is a prototype personal mobile robotic assistant that can recognize speech, follow patients around and communicate via touch screen. She is being groomed to remind seniors to take their medication, see the doctor and keep from getting lost. She could also serve as a “telepresence” for remote checkups with caregivers.
But, Pearl’s ultimate success will depend on whether people just plain like being around her.
To that end, a multidisciplinary team of roboticists, social scientists and interaction designers has drawn on theories of emotion from cognitive science and the principles of aesthetics to explore what happens when human characteristics are added—or taken away—from Pearl’s “persona.”
“We certainly don’t know what the ‘right level’ of human likeness may be, but we do want to find that out,” said one researcher.
Pearl has a vocabulary of expressions intended to make her both more engaging and more efficient. Pearl’s appealing look and her ability to communicate and navigate seems to prompt many people to see her as a character—or even a "real" creature.(Continued …)