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Council of Coaches

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - COUCH (Council of Coaches)

Reporting period: 2017-09-01 to 2019-02-28

Despite the proliferation of ICT solutions for personalized healthcare, there is still no easy way to provide older adults with integrated coaching services. Council of Coaches (COUCH) introduces a radically new virtual coaching concept based on multiple autonomous, embodied virtual coaches. Together, they are a personal council that fulfills the needs of older adults in an integrated way. Each Coach has his own expertise, personality, and style of coaching; they might not always agree with each other, but they all share a single goal: to support you across every aspect of well-being, including physical, social, cognitive and mental support. The Council members listen to you, inform you, help you to set personal goals and inspire you to take control of your health. Give the council your thoughts, or listen and observe how the individual Coaches exchange their views on numerous issues. Apply your new skills in daily life and if the need arises, contact any of the coaches anytime, anywhere.

COUCH will be empowered by a novel Open Agent Platform, providing core functionalities for the development and deployment of Coaches, including technologies for non-obtrusive interactions between the user and the Coaches. To this end, novel spoken dialogue interaction technologies will be provided as embodied conversational agents that will join in conversations with the user. The platform will not be confined to a constrained number of Coaches – rather it will enable developers and innovators to introduce new Coaches that provide additional know-how and services. Hence, COUCH will enable a new virtual coaching ecosystem, bringing together healthcare services providers with innovators to implement novel ideas. Plans for the sustainability and wider use of its paradigm will be based on the expansion and support of this ecosystem at EU scale, including linking with the partners’ business networks and the FIWARE & universAAL communities.
Stakeholder interviews have led to patient journeys per patient group to describe how our technology can assist them in daily life. We have set up a list of user requirements, gained from several different research methods, that will be used as input for the further development of the system. Two technical- and functional demonstrators have been developed, and evaluated, showing initial promising results and generating valuable feedback. An RRI vision was established in how the Council of Coaches project handles ethical issues within a project framework and how we can develop a coaching application within ethical, legal and societal boundaries. Exploitation pathways have been explored and are now shaping the future direction of development and evaluation of the final demonstrators.

The project has integrated two separate embodied agent systems with a dialogue engine, sensor data platform, and a knowledge base. The virtual agent platforms have been extended to operate with multiple embodied agents in the same scene, bringing the Council of Coaches concept to life. Six virtual coach characters have been developed and are being worked out in terms of character and presentation. Their gaze and gesture behaviours can now be automatically generated in multi-party settings. To establish an idea about how the dialogues would work in multi-coach coaching sessions, real-life interactions between a patient and at least two medical professionals have been videotaped and analyzed. The DGEP platform, that generates the dialogues, has been integrated with ASAP/GRETA.

Unobtrusive extraction of user behavior from sensors has been integrated with the system, including short-term physical, and social behaviour detection models. Long-term behaviour definitions have been established, and knowledge-driven and data-driven behaviour models are designed based on the short term physical and social behaviour models. A literature study has identified key knowledge components required for successful and tailored coaching. We have developed the required theoretical framework for the automated coaching engine: Coaching Goals – Coaching Strategies – Coaching Actions – Dialogue Actions. And developed an initial set of concrete coaching actions that aim to bridge the gap between current and desired states in the area of physical, cognitive, mental or social status. An initial knowledge base and coaching engine design has been made and is implemented.

All in all, we have established initial designs of all the important elements of the framework: the appearance of the virtual coaches, the body language and the spoken dialogues they will perform, the extraction of information from sensor data and the translation of that to behaviour information which can be stored in a knowledge base and used in a coaching strategy. All the different platforms and designs have been integrated into two separate demonstrators - one to provide end-user feedback on the content, and one to test state of the art Human-Computer Interaction technology. Both these demonstrators are constantly being updated based on the functional requirements gathered by end-user interview, the RRI methodology and exploitation, and stakeholder workshops.
"The concept of the ""Council of Coaches"" is inherently new. A very strong focus from day 1 of the project has been on developing tangible prototypes to demonstrate this concept - resulting in a very first multi-coaching demonstrator to be shown at the project's kick-off meeting in November of 2017. Since then, two more iterations of a ""functional demonstrator"" (focused on demonstrating the content of multi-part coaching conversations), and a ""technical demonstrator"" (focused on the novel HCI aspects of embodied multi-party coaching) have been released and evaluated with end-users. These first 2 evaluation rounds have demonstrated that the core concept works. End-users rated our preliminary demonstrators high on usability and showed a high level of engagement, even when a lot of work remains to be done on the content of these demonstrators. With this experience in hand, we strongly believe that the expected impact on improving the engagement and effect of coaching on lifestyle and well-being will be delivered.

Besides progress beyond the state of art, and progress towards the expected impacts in the demonstration of the overall concept of Council of Coaches, progress has been made in several different areas:
- Significant progress has been made on the development of formal dialogue models (theoretical and implemented) for health coaching, incorporating perspectives from the field of argumentation and dialogue, including initial practical development of an updated platform for the execution of implemented dialogue models.
- Two major virtual agent platforms GRETA and ASAP have been integrated to combine their capabilities, and were extended to support multiple characters.
- An overall system architecture and roadmap towards the release of the open agent platform has been established.
- A methodology and vision on how to practically implement RRI principles in the daily workings of a RIA project has been established and is showing promising results."