Rise of Love Robots: Can Robots Help Combat Elderly Loneliness?

Robots are being tested to determine if they can alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation among the elderly in care. The University of British Columbia is currently conducting a study involving two “Love Robots” named Kiwi and Mango, which have been imported from Japan. Dr. Lillian Hung, an assistant professor at the UBC School of Nursing, is leading the research on how these robots interact with older adults and address cognitive challenges.

Unlike traditional robots that perform tasks for humans, Love Robots engage with individuals and encourage their passions. They communicate in a robotic language and function similarly to pets without the responsibility associated with pet ownership. These robots are independent and only require love and interaction, even returning to their “nest” for recharging when their battery runs low.

The potential benefits of these small robots in the healthcare sector are substantial, as they have the ability to speak, learn, recognize faces and voices, and move around like pets. Kiwi and Mango will undergo testing at Amica in West Vancouver during weekends, while also being observed and recorded to assess their interactions with residents, care staff, and residents’ families.

Hung, who personally owns a robot, believes that assessing how people interact with these robots and their usefulness in daily life is crucial. Initial responses to the robotic pair visiting care homes and neighborhood houses in the Vancouver region have been strongly positive, eliciting laughter and smiles from the elderly. Designed with unique personalities, one robot is an introvert and the other is an extrovert. They respond to people and create a sense of companionship.

This is the first pilot project of Love Robots in Canada, with UBC planning to share the study’s results to inform future directions in elder care. The research builds upon previous studies where a robotic seal provided emotional and social support for people with dementia in long-term care. The effectiveness of robots in hospitals for individuals with dementia or delirium still requires further investigation.

– University of British Columbia
– Dr. Lillian Hung