More About Our Pilot

We just finished our five-month pilot project at an independent living facility, offering facilitated video calling and programming delivered via operator-driven telepresence robots, and we definitely didn’t get it right. We ran surveys before and after, and while the residents accepted the robots and grew to enjoy chatting with our operators, actual take-up of our services was generally poor. We tried providing some different recreational options in group settings – interactive games and music, for example – and again, the residents enjoyed these sessions but showed no interest in booking activities for themselves individually.

We learned that

  • In general, older adults will accept these types of devices and grow accustomed to them within a few days
  • Having a human “ambassador” to introduce a robot to people is key. Lots of people don’t really trust robots so meeting a real human with the robot allows trust to develop with the human that can be transferred to the robot over time
  • It is the external family members who are the drivers for connection. Those family members who participated really enjoyed driving the robots themselves and seeing where their loved ones lived

In addition, despite being in a facility where they received meals and cleaning services, residents considered themselves to be very independent. Many have figured out one video calling application and don’t believe they need to learn anything new.

“I’m independent, I don’t need a robot.”

“I don’t mind chatting with them but really, they’re probably useful for other people.”

These are quotes from individuals who are respectively 95 and 89 years old. They no longer have to shop, cook, do dishes, clean, lift heavy items, reach to the back of the fridge, clean out guttering, mow the lawn or drive a car anywhere, but they think of themselves as self-sufficient.

We’d gone in offering a service to help, but really, most people don’t want help from others. They want to do everything themselves. People want to be able to consider themselves autonomous and independent. So, how do we help people in a way they will accept? We don’t know the answer yet but we have some clues. Stay tuned for more…