Physiotherapy robots need to be more human-like, say Ben Gurion U researchers

One of the lead researchers said that there is a definite need to personalize encounters between the robots and humans.

October 23, 2017 17:57
1 minute read.
Physiotherapy robots need to be more human-like, say Ben Gurion U researchers

Dr. Shelly Levy-Tzedek (in red dress) demonstrates to President Rivlin how she uses robots for physical therapy during the president’s visit to BGU. Lab Engineer Avital Elishay (at the computer) is running the demonstration.. (photo credit: DANI MACHLIS/BGU)


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President Reuven Rivlin, on a visit to Beersheba’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev on Sunday to mark the first day of the academic year, touched hands with a robot. But BGU researchers have gone farther, discovering preferences in human-robot interactions for the rehabilitation of patients who need to practice at home due to the shortage of physiotherapists.

Since most patients with disabilities don’t practice enough or at all at home, Dr. Shelly Levy-Tzedek -- head of the cognition, aging and rehabilitation lab in BGU’s Faculty of Health Sciences -- has focused her research on designing robot companions to encourage patients to practice and to track their progress.

Writing in the latest issue of Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, Levy-Tzedek said that there is a need to personalize such encounters to fit both the human’s preferences and the designated task.

“In the future, human beings may increasingly rely on robotic assistance for daily tasks. Our research shows that the type of motions that the robot makes when interacting with the humans makes a difference in how satisfied the person is with the interaction,” she continued. “People feel that if robots don’t move like they do, it is unsettling, and they will use them less frequently.”

In the study, 22 college-age participants played a leader-follower mirror game with a robotic arm, where a person and robot took turns following each other's joint movements patterns. When the robotic arm was leading, it performed movements that were either; sharp, like dribbling a ball; or smooth, like tracing a circle.

“Just as the field of medicine is moving towards customized medicine for each patient, the field of robotics needs to customize the pattern of interaction differently for each user,” said Levy-Tzedek.

The study participants preferred smooth, familiar movements, which resemble human movements, over sharp (“robotic”) or unfamiliar movements when the robot was leading the interaction. Thus, “determining the elements in the interaction that make users more motivated to continue it is important in designing future robots that will interact with humans on a daily basis,” concluded.

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