Robots are rapidly entering the healthcare sector. The hope is that some of the shortage of healthcare personnel can be compensated for by robots that assist people with daily activities and provide companionship.
These robots should not only function from a technical standpoint but must also be designed in a way that makes them user-friendly and compliant with universal design principles.
The project "Universal Design of Robots (UD Robots)" has taken a closer look at this issue.
The project is a collaboration between Professor at VID Zada Pajalic, Researcher at the University of Oslo Diana Saplacan, and Senior Researcher at the Norwegian Computing Center Trenton Schulz.
Evaluating the Robots
The project's purpose has been to find out how one can design and evaluate if social robots are universally designed.
The research had three sub-goals:
- Investigate how existing universal design principles can be applied to robots.
- Discuss different use cases for robots with potential users.
- Propose methods for evaluating robots and use them to assess various social robots.
Identified several challenges
The researchers recruited both users and potential users of robots that interact with people. Two workshops and two surveys were conducted.
Participants in the workshops pointed out several challenges with robots in healthcare:
- Ethical dilemmas: Robots cannot replace personnel in all situations.
- Infrastructure considerations: How can a robot be integrated into the environment?
- User considerations: How does the robot affect patients' trust in the healthcare system?
- Design considerations: Universal design should be a minimum, with adaptability to the situation.
Are robots universally designed?
The first survey was about the universal design of robots, while the second survey focused on the use of social and helpful robots at home and in healthcare.
In the first survey, participants were presented with the seven principles of universal design and a selection of different robots. They were then asked how well each robot fulfilled the various principles. The responses showed that none of the robots met all the demands,, indicating a need for further effort to make robots accessible and useful for people with disabilities.
How can robots contribute?
In the second survey, participants were presented with the robots and asked to evaluate how the robots could be used in a home environment or to assist old people. Many of the participants had experience in this area, and could identify various tasks where a robot could be helpful, such as providing information to a patient, managing appointments, serving as a personal assistant or fetching items. Participants noted that a robot could not help in all situations, such as working with people with mental health issues.
The report concludes that no robots can fulfill all the principles and guidelines of Universal Design. The robots may fit the context of use and the user's abilities.
You can read the full report here
The project is funded by the Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth, and Family Affairs (Bufdir).