Social robots can perform the same tasks as other AI helpers – remind you of your schedule, report the news or the weather and play music. They’re also programmed to interact with humans and provide companionship, satisfying the emotional needs of their owners.
But how useful are these robots? What benefit does interacting with them provide? And how do they compare with human interaction?
Social Robots in Child Education
Social robots are being used in classrooms as teacher aids, helping individual students with concepts such as numbers and vocabulary. A teacher may not have time to individually tutor every child and social robots can work with students one-on-one. These robotic teaching assistants are shown to boost learning when used in conjunction with normal education.
Children also appear to connect to the robots more than human tutors in physical or virtual environments. One theory is that robots are predictable in their reactions and non-threatening to children, particularly autistic children. One study showed that autistic children were more comfortable engaging with a social robot than a human therapist. And after engaging with the robot, the children were shown to be more comfortable interacting with the human therapist.
Social Robots in the Hospital
Social robots also benefit children in hospital settings. In one study, children who interacted with a social robot teddy bear showed less stress, reported less pain and were more physically active than those given a traditional teddy bear.
Social robots are being tested in physical therapy for adults and children. When it comes to keeping up with physical exercises at home adults, and especially children, can neglect their therapy. A social robot can remind them of their exercises, provide encouragement and direct patients in performing exercises correctly, greatly improving a patient’s exercise adherence.
Social Robots in Elderly Care
Some social robots, such as Paro the robotic seal, take the form of animals and respond to patients and relieve anxiety the same way a real pet would without the manual upkeep or risk of allergies. Other social robots act as assistant caregivers. They engage patients in conversations, remind them to take their medication and send messages to their doctor. Such robots offer companionship, entertainment and utility.
Caregivers have responded positively to the idea of social robots as caregiving assistants and their ability to relieve stress for their human counterparts. The robots could help with difficult tasks such as answering repeated questions or persuading or engaging patients when caregivers are having trouble doing so.
Social Robots in Mental Health
Researchers have found social robots can help patients manage mental health. In the study, people were more willing to talk to robots about sensitive topics such as depression, eating disorders and substance abuse. This may be due to a fear of judgement from a human health practitioner. In practice, the robot could encourage the patient to speak with a human specialist or guide them through a professionally supervised care program.
Social Robots in the Future
Despite the benefits social robots may provide, the technology is fairly new and, in some cases, rather expensive. Many consumers are hesitant to adopt such technology into their lives, and some experts are concerned emotional connections formed with robots may inhibit our ability to connect with human beings. As such, social robots have been slow to build excitement.
Nevertheless, the market for social robots is projected to grow 13.75% from 2017 to 2023 to reach nearly $700 million.