Socially Assistive Robots Successfully Tested in Healthcare Environments

Next-generation socially assistive robots have undergone successful trials in healthcare settings, marking a major advancement in patient care.

The SPRING initiative brought forth robots designed for gerontological healthcare, powered by artificial intelligence. These robots, tested at Assistance Publique Hopitaux de Paris in France, showcased their ability to chat naturally, comprehend patient requirements, and handle everyday duties.


Enhancing Patient Experience and Alleviating Anxiety


The SPRING robots were not only able to greet patients and provide directions but also showcased the ability to comprehend conversations involving multiple people simultaneously. Professor Anne-Sophie Rigaud, head of the hospital department, emphasised the value of these socially assistive robots for patients with cognitive disorders, stating that older adults appreciated the robots for the “information and companionship” they offered.

The positive feedback suggests that the ARI robot, part of the trial, could become an essential element of patient care in hospitals, thanks to its capacity for social interaction and guidance.


Reducing Physical Contact and Boosting Productivity


During the trials, the socially assistive robots also played a crucial role in reducing potential physical contact between clinicians and patients. By undertaking simple but repetitive tasks, the robots not only assisted hospital staff but also contributed to lowering the risk of infection transmission.

The early trial feedback supports the idea that introducing socially assistive robots has the potential to increase the productivity of nurses and doctors, creating a safer space for patient care.


Advancements in Human-Robot Interaction Technology


The SPRING project achieves success by directly addressing the limitations of current Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) technology. Socially Assistive Robots (SARs) encounter challenges in fulfilling social roles and carrying out tasks in complex, unstructured environments, restricting their acceptance among users.

The SPRING project aims to create socially aware robots capable of multi-person interactions and open-domain dialogue, overcoming existing bottlenecks in SARs’ hardware and software design.


Scientific, Technological, and Experimental Objectives of SPRING


The SPRING project outlines three primary objectives to achieve its goals:


Scientific Objective: Establish a new framework for socially aware robots, employing inventive methods and algorithms in computer vision, audio processing, sensor-based control, and spoken dialog systems.

Technological Objective: Shape a new era of flexible robots designed to adapt to user needs, giving preference to user-centric design over rigid functionalities.

Experimental Objective: Validate the technology through Human-Robot Interaction experiments in gerontological healthcare settings, assessing its acceptability by patients and medical staff.


Collaborative Efforts and Funding Support


Partners from different European countries, including France, Italy, Czechia, the United Kingdom, Israel, and Spain, join forces in the collaborative SPRING project.

INRIA in France coordinates the project, with institutions like the University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University, and Assistance Publique Hopitaux de Paris actively participating. This teamwork places emphasis on the joint dedication to unlocking the possibilities of socially assistive robots for enhancing healthcare.

The SPRING project, funded with €8.3 million (about £7 million), receives support from the European Union through the Horizon 2020 programme. The backing from the European Union, Scottish government, and UK government underlines the acknowledgment of the project’s ability to introduce innovative technology for positive changes in healthcare.