Home physiotherapy robots need to be more human-like

BGU researchers are doing much for robotics, and for people too.

A service Robot (photo credit: BEN GURION UNIVERSITY OF THE NEGEV)
A service Robot
President Reuven Rivlin touched hands with a robot while visiting Beersheba’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev to mark the first day of the academic year on Sunday.
But BGU researchers working on robotics have gone much further.
Due to a shortage of physiotherapists, researchers are investigating and discovering preferences in human-robot interactions for patients who need additional home-based therapy for their rehabilitation.
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 as a way to track their progress.
Writing in the latest issue of Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, Levy-Tzedek said 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.
In the study, 22 college-age participants played a leader- follower mirror game with a robotic arm in which a person and robot took turns following each other’s joint movement 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 toward 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 resembled human movements, over sharp, “robotic,” or unfamiliar motions when the robot was leading the interaction.
Thus, in “determining the elements in the interaction that make users more motivated to continue, it is important [to design] future robots that will interact with humans on a daily basis,” she said.