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Culture Aware Robots and Environmental Sensor Systems for Elderly Support

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - CARESSES (Culture Aware Robots and Environmental Sensor Systems for Elderly Support)

Reporting period: 2018-07-01 to 2020-01-31

The general objective of CARESSES is to build culturally competent robots able to re-configure their way of acting and speaking, when offering a service, to match the culture and habits of the person they are assisting.

The need for cultural competence has been deeply investigated in the Nursing literature. However, it has been totally neglected in Robotics: state-of-the-art robots consider only the problem of “what to do” to provide a service, and not “how to do it”. CARESSES stems from the consideration that cultural competence is crucial for health-care robots as it is for human caregivers. From the user’s perspective, a culturally appropriate behavior is key to improve acceptability; from the commercial perspective, it may open new avenues for marketing robots across different countries.

CARESSES concept can be illustrated as follows. A culturally competent robot: (i) knows culture-specific characteristics that are shared by a group of people; (ii) it is aware that cultural characteristics take different forms in different individuals, thus avoiding stereotypes; and (iii) it is sensitive to cultural differences while perceiving, reasoning, and acting.

Regarding scientific research, CARESSES studies how to represent cultural knowledge, how to use cultural knowledge in sensing, planning and acting, and how to acquire it. Regarding technological development, CARESSES will not produce new physical robotic platforms. Instead, it considers three replicas of a commercial robot (SoftBank Robotics Pepper) and integrates into them the outcome of the above scientific work, by making them culturally competent. Regarding validation, CARESSES will test the three robots, customized for three different cultures, in two test sites in EU and Japan, with a number of older persons and their informal caregivers.

To achieve its groundbreaking objective, CARESSES involves a multidisciplinary team of EU and Japanese researchers with a background in AI, Robotics, Transcultural Nursing, Testing and evaluations of health-care technology, and includes a worldwide leading company in Robotics and a network of care homes.
"The activities performed in the project are the following.

- Definition of several scenarios and guidelines for different cultural groups (English, Indian, Japanese), which describe the activities to be performed by culturally competent robots when interacting with older persons during daily routines.

- Development of the architecture of the system (based on the universAAL framework for Ambient Assisted Living) and its main software components: (i) the Cultural Knowledge Base (CKB) for cultural knowledge representation and acquisition through verbal interaction and observations; (ii) the Culturally-Sensitive Planning and Execution Module (CSPEM), able to plan customized sequence of actions depending on the cultural profile of the user; (iii) the Culture-Aware Human Robot Interaction Module (CAHRIM), including all actions required by the robot to execute and monitor the assigned plan.

- Development of two solutions to allow the robot to interact with smart sensors and actuators, based on: (i) the adaptation of universAAL to support the ECHONET-lite standard for home automation, tested in the iHouse smart apartment in Japan; (ii) the development of an Android application for interacting with IoTs devices through the Pepper’s tablet.

- Development of a Cloud-based version of the CARESSES software, able to provide services for Culturally Competent interaction to virtually any devices, tested in two case studies: (i) a Smartphone application; (ii) Pillo, the robotic dispenser developed by Pillo Health.

- Preparation of a detailed study protocol and a test conduction handbook to describe the methodology and procedures of the testing and evaluation phases of the study, including key ethical considerations.

- Conduction of the main trial in UK and Japan, which included submitting the experimental protocol for Ethics approval, as well as implementing all the required procedures for screening, recruitment and testing, and for conduction of pre- and post-testing structured quantitative interviews with residents. Data analysis has been performed, paralleled by an assessment of study feasibility and a cost-effectiveness analysis using the EU MAFEIP tool.

- Preparation of a schedule for Open Source release of the CARESSES software. Publication of Open Data according to the CARESSES Data Management Plan.

- Development of an exploitation plan for CARESSES outcomes, including the creation of a university spin-off company.

Dissemination and Communication have focused on following activities.

- Publication of scientific articles in top-ranked journals and conferences proceedings, participation to scientific events as invited speakers, organization of Special Sessions and Workshops about cultural factors in Robotics.

- Participation in public events to showcase the project's outcomes.

- Creation of the CARESSES website and social media channels on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

- Production of videos for scientific purposes and for the general public, including (i) the ""CARESSES concept"" animated video and (ii) the ""CARESSES experiments"" video prepared using footage recorded during the trial.

- A very intense presence on the media through interviews and articles on major journals, TV and Radio Channels.

CARESSES has been nominated Project of the Month by the EU (2018), it has been recognized in the UK’s best breakthrough list by the MadeAtUni campaign (2018), it has been awarded a SMAU Innovation Award (2019), and its is mentioned among the “100 ITALIAN ROBOTIC & AUTOMATION STORIES” in the Enel report (2020). CARESSES innovations have been acknowledged by the EC innovation radar."
CARESSES, for the first time, introduces the concept of a culturally competent robot, and makes the first steps towards the development of computational models of robotic cultural competence, as well as their implementation and testing on a robotic platform.

International statistics report that the population of older and very old people is growing at a steady pace. Many of these older and very old people will be able to live alone with minimal support and supervision: in this scenario, culturally competent Socially Assistive Robots can help fostering the independence and autonomy of older persons in many ways, by reducing the days spent in care institutions and prolonging the time spent living in their own home.

For example, by being with the person on a 24/7 basis, robots could reduce the inevitable level of loneliness through conversation, personalized entertainment or connecting the person with a friend or a member of the family. Also, or they can impact on the safety and on the health of the older person through their ability to monitor falls or other accidents and raise the relevant alarms.

In this general scenario, CARESSES centers around the thesis that cultural competence can have a specific impact on (i) increasing acceptability by designing robots that are more sensitive to the user’s needs, customs and lifestyle, (ii) improving the quality of life of users and their caregivers, (iii) reducing caregiver burden, (iv) improving the system’s efficiency and effectiveness. From a commercial perspective, (v) cultural customization can impact on global leadership in SAR by overcoming the barriers to marketing robots across different countries.
The concept of Cultural Competence in CARESSES