Conference Abstracts - Katherine Tsui

Telepresence Robots as Assistive Technology

Katherine M. Tsui
Department of Computer Science, University of Massachusetts Lowell

For people with special needs (i.e., seniors and people with disabilities), a personís quality of life may be impacted when he/she is no longer able to participation in every day activities with family and friends. Isolation can lead to feelings of overall sadness which can lead to additional health issues [1], thus there is the belief that social engagement can help to mitigate depression. Telepresence robots provide interactive two-way audio and video communication. Additionally, these telepresence robots can be controlled independently by an operator, which means that the person driving can explore and look around as he/she desires.

We have conducted previous research to determine what types of office workers might have positive experiences using these telepresence robots in an office environment [2]. We found that people who were no longer in the same building as their teammates had the best experiences recreating the closeness with their teams using telepresence robots. We hypothesize that similar benefits can be gained by people with special needs who wish to engage in social interaction but cannot be physically present with their family and friends.

Assistive technology benefits directly from the consumer electronics market. Given the recent emergence of a number of telepresence robot platforms (i.e., Giraff Technology's Giraff, RoboDynamics' TiLR, Anybots' QB, VGo Communications' VGo, Willow Garage's Texai, Gostai's Jazz), we believe that people with special needs will adopt this new technology.

Our research focuses on the scenario in which people with special needs take the active role of operating telepresence robots. In the first stage of our research, we are investigating what autonomous robot navigation behaviors are necessary, how these navigation behaviors should be designed to function in social situations, and how a user interface to control a telepresence robot should be designed for people with special needs with a simple and minimal aesthetic. We will describe our overall system design and the experimental design of an upcoming pilot study. We also will discuss the potential of these robots for telecommuting.

Information about our work can be found at

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[1] R. Findlay, "Interventions to Reduce Social Isolation Amongst Older People: Where Is the Evidence?" Ageing & Society, vol. 23, no. 05, pp. 647-658, 2003.
[2] K. Tsui, M. Desai, H. Yanco, and C. Uhlik, "Exploring Use Cases for Telepresence Robots," in Proc. of 6th ACM/IEEE Intl. Conf. on Human- Robot Interaction, 2011.