Imagine the loneliness that must set in as a person ages and loses touch with the people they love. If the elderly had access to their family members’ social networks, they could keep connected to their loved ones on an everyday basis and not have to wait for a phone call or a letter. They could enjoy photos and videos on sites like flickr rather than having to wait to see them during visits (if at all). The problem is that social networking is still evolving and it’s difficult for older people to stay up to date if they don’t understand the technology, especially when computers are often seen as intimidating. That’s where telepresence and communication robots like Kompott come in.
Kompott is a prototype robotic agent built by students at Zurich University of the Arts’ Interaction Design lab in Switzerland. The robot’s head is a touch screen which displays intuitive icons for all the content it gathers from emails to videos. You can browse through items by tapping on the left or right side of the head to scroll through them and simply tap on an item to open it. For those who may have difficulty reading the text on the screen, the robot uses speech synthesis to read the messages aloud. To reply, you speak to the robot which then transcribes your message using a speech-to-text program before sending it off as an email. A large button on the robot’s chest gives access to all of their contacts, which are shown with a large photo.
Thanks to its simple interface, Kompott and robots like it may someday empower the elderly to maintain relationships using internet-based technologies they would otherwise never be able to use. The obvious benefits of such a system will no doubt go a long way to eliminating the sense of isolation and loneliness that many feel.