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Socially intelligent robot as window to the world

Telepresence robots, distance controlled robots in which the robot’s 'face' is a video screen, are on the rise. They are already commercially available and can perform a range of functions. The TERESA project adds a vital dimension: social intelligence. Their robot can help relieve the isolation often faced by elderly or disabled people.

TERESA

TERESA project

The TERESA project team has a vision: Socially intelligent robots which are able to go out into the world and act on our behalf, controlled by us but with the ability to react intelligently to the situations they find themselves in.

The robot they developed enables elderly people and others with mobility issues to continue to interact socially with others, without ever having to leave their room. Loneliness and isolation are major problems faced by many older or disabled people, but the TERESA robot provides an imaginative and revolutionary solution.

Appropriate behaviour

The researchers have developed methods that enable the robots to perform social functions automatically, so  that the human controller never needs to make decisions about how the robot should move around or what postures it should adopt.

TERESA robots are able to navigate semi-autonomously, maintaining face-to-face contact during conversations, and displaying appropriate body-pose behaviour – in a similar way to human beings. Algorithms that can interpret social behaviour are able to detect facial emotions such as the intensity of a smile, for example, and respond accordingly.

So thanks to the robot’s social intelligence, the human controller is free to focus on interactions with other people, instead of worrying about manually navigating the robot or adjusting its position and orientation.

The telepresence robot was originally developed in the EU-funded Giraffplus project but TERESA is continuing the work. The project is a cooperation of the University of Amsterdam, the University of Twente, Universidad Pablo de Olavide, Imperial College London, MADoPA and the University of Oxford (coordinator). It received funding from the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme.

Stephen Von Rump, former CEO for Giraff Technologies said: "Telepresence robots have found an important application in telehealth and telecare, particularly in helping elderly live longer at home in a safe and dignified way. Experience has shown, though, that what are natural human gestures and behaviors in face-to-face encounters are not so natural when navigating a robot, and this limitation of the current technology has proven a drawback in practical deployments. The ambitions of the TERESA project will significantly expand the breadth of use cases for telepresence in remote care, saving money and improving quality of life."