Applied Co-Creation Approach to the Design and Development of a Socially Assistive Robot System to Support Hardware and Software Accessibility and Acceptability Needs of Individuals with AD/ADRD and Their Caregivers

Kingsley, C.1, Stout, A.1, Herrera, N.1, Mittelman, M.2, and Niehaus, J.1

Presented at the 2020 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference Technology and Dementia Pre-Conference, Virtual (July 2020)

Background: Commercially available socially-assistive robots (SARs) serve as a promising new assistive technology platform for individuals with early and middle stage AD/ADRD and their caregivers, yet often fail to address the specific usability, accessibility, and acceptability needs of these user groups. Loneliness, social isolation, depression, anxiety, and overall diminished quality of life are symptoms that individuals with AD/ADRD and their caregivers often share. The emerging market of SARs brings an advantage over existing assistive technologies because they provide an opportunity for technology to empathetically and seamlessly provide affordable and scalable solutions to social isolation and loneliness that are often left unaddressed.

Method: Three rounds of co-creation sessions, consisting of interviews with individuals with early and middle stage AD/ADRD and focus groups with AD/ADRD caregivers, to understand both groups' pain points, needs, methods/frequency of social interaction, experiences with technology, criteria for building trust in technology/systems, perception/opinions of SARs, and interest in and ideas for ways SARs can improve their daily lives, to drive co-development of hardware and software solutions to adapt commercially available SARs to deliver useful experiences tuned to population-specific requirements.

Result: We presented the qualitative methods, analysis, and findings from our NIA-funded IRB-approved co-creation user research and demonstrate our resultant prototype system, involving a commercial social robot with user-centered software and hardware adaptations for increased accessibility and usability (e.g., large tactile buttons, large visual display, additional speakers and microphones). Additionally, we discussed lessons learned from our co-creation user research approach in the context of addressing two unique populations and recommendations for future approaches.

Conclusion: Individuals with early and middle stage AD/ADRD and their caregivers are generally receptive and excited by the potential for social robot technology and can greatly benefit from it when designed thoughtfully and inclusively. Current SARs provide promise, but must be adapted to the specific interaction needs of these populations to increase adoption and utility. An iterative, co-creation user research and design process involving both individuals with AD/ADRD and their caregivers provides a promising approach to develop useful and acceptable in-home social robot technology to enhance the social connectedness, well-being, and quality of life of these populations.

Charles River Analytics
NYU School of Medicine

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