Socially Pertinent Robots in Gerontological Healthcare

SPRING is an EU H2020-ICT research and innovation action (RIA) whose main objective is the development of socially assistive robots with the capacity of performing multimodal multiple-person interaction and open-domain dialogue. SPRING explores new methods at the crossroads of machine learning, computer vision, audio signal processing, spoken dialog and robotics for enhancing the interaction and communication capabilities of companion robots. The paramount application of SPRING is the use of robots in gerontological healthcare.

Partners: Inria Grenoble (coordinator), Università degli Studi di Trento, Czech Technical University Prague, Heriot-Watt University Edinborough, Bar-Ilan University Tel Aviv, ERM Automatismes Industriels Carpentras, PAL Robotics Barcelona, and Hôpital Broca Paris.
Project duration: 48 months (1 Januray 2020 – 31 December 2023).
EU funding: 8,300,000€.


Short presentation: https://project.inria.fr/spring/files/2019/10/spring-presentation.pdf

Project summary

In the past five years, social robots have been introduced into public spaces, such as museums, airports, commercial malls, banks, company show rooms, hospitals, and retirement homes, to mention a few examples. In addition to classical robotic skills such as navigation, grasping and manipulating objects, i.e. physical interactions, social robots must be able to communicate with people in the most natural way, i.e. cognitive interactions. To properly fulfil social roles and successfully execute social tasks, there is a crucial need for socially assistive robots (SARs), or robots able to move, see, hear and communicate in complex and unstructured populated spaces. 

Nevertheless, today’s Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) technology is not well-suited to fulfill these needs. Indeed, SARs that are currently available suffer from two main bottlenecks: (i) they are limited to a handful of simple scenarios which leads to (ii) SARs not being well accepted by a large percentage of users such as elderly adults. These limitations are largely due to the fact that both their hardware and supporting software have been designed for reactive single-user interaction mostly based on keyword spotting where the robot waits to be instructed what to do based on a limited set of scripted actions. Overcoming these limitations raises difficult scientific and technological challenges with tremendous social impact and economic value. The overall objective of the SPRING project is to develop Socially Assistive Robots with the capacity of performing multi-person interactions and open-domain dialogue.

This will require new developments over several scientific topics, namely computer vision, audio signal processing, spoken dialogue, machine learning, and robotics, as well as inter-topic developments, such as human behaviour analysis, audio-visual fusion, multi-modal dialogue, sensorimotor robot control. Altogether, SPRING plans to achieve a fine coupling between scientific findings and technological developments to bring social robots into gerontological healthcare:

  • The scientific objective of SPRING is to develop a novel paradigm and novel concept of socially-aware robots, and to conceive innovative methods and algorithms for computer vision, audio processing, sensor-based control, and spoken dialog systems based on modern statistical- and deep-learning to ground the required social robot skills.
  • The technological objective of SPRING is to create and launch a brand new generation of robots that are flexible enough to adapt to the needs of the users, and not the other way around.
  • The experimental objective of SPRING is twofold: to validate the technology based on HRI experiments in a gerontology hospital, and to assess its acceptability by patients and medical staff.

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