Using AI-Enhanced Social Robots to Improve Children's Healthcare Experiences

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Computing Science

Abstract

Children experience pain and distress in clinical settings every day, and the negative consequences of unaddressed pain can be both short-term (e.g. fear, distress, inability to perform procedures) and long-term (e.g. needle phobia, anxiety). In a series of small, innovative studies by project team members, a Nao humanoid robot has been used to deliver cognitive-behavioural therapy-based interventions during needle-based procedures. The results of these early studies have been positive, showing high acceptance among the target population as well as promising initial clinical results. However, these studies were all hindered by a critical technical limitation: in all cases, the robot was remotely operated and employed purely scripted behaviour with limited AI support, diminishing the flexibility and robustness of its behaviour as well as its potential to offer personalised, adaptive procedural support to children. In this project, we aim to address this limitation by developing and evaluating a clinically relevant and responsive AI-enhanced social robot. We believe that interaction with a robust, adaptive, socially intelligent robot can effectively distract children during painful clinical procedures, thereby reducing pain and distress.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research?

The research proposal has the potential to benefit all stakeholders involved in delivering potentially painful interventions in a children's clinical setting, including:
1. Children undergoing these procedures
2. Parents and caregivers of those children
3. Healthcare providers who carry out such procedures
4. Policymakers and clinical decision makers who determine standards of care

In addition, the software and guidelines developed during the project represent an opportunity for impact on an additional set of beneficiaries: namely, those who develop and deploy social robots that are designed to interact with children.


How will they benefit from this research?

Achieving the project objectives will deliver numerous practical benefits to all stakeholders involved in the target clinical setting. At one level, as the research plan itself involves children, parents, and healthcare providers throughout the process, ensuring that they are fully consulted throughout every stage and engaged in the development of the robot software and the results of the study. Also, the new, flexible, robust robot intervention has the clear potential to benefit all of the above stakeholders: children will experience less pain and distress in clinical settings; their parents and carers will experience less distress and anxiety as well; while the healthcare providers will find it easier and less stressful to carry out procedures in the short term, and will also not need to deal with longer-term consequences such as needle phobia. Clinical decision makers who determine standards of care in emergency departments will also benefit from the addition of a novel, engaging, clinically proven method of reducing pain and distress in the emergency department and other clinical settings.

Developers of similar social robots will also directly benefit from the work done on this project: not only will they be able to use the publicly released software components, but also -- and perhaps more importantly --- they will have access to a comprehensive, evidence-based set of recommendations and guidelines on how to ethically and responsibly integrate a user-centric approach into their AI and robotics projects.


What will be done to ensure they have the opportunity to benefit?

Our primary channel for delivering impact is through Solutions for Kids in Pain (SKIP), a federally-funded knowledge mobilization network in Canada that seeks to bridge the gap between current treatment practices and available evidence-based solutions for children's pain in Canadian health institutions. Through an in-kind contribution, SKIP will permit us to:
- Disseminate and share information about the research across the SKIP network including in the newsletter, website, and social media.
- Take advantage of knowledge translation activities and opportunities such as media pitches, partner blog posts, and featured articles.
- Have access to 48 Canadian health institutions, including all children's hospitals in Canada, to support data collection and connections with patient, parent, and health professional groups, as well as access to regional knowledge brokers at sites across Canada.
 
Description Christian Evidence Society "Questions of our Times" webinar: "Will a robot steal my job?" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact One-hour online discussion of the impact of robots in society, including a discussion of whether robots will take jobs as well as a more general discussion of the ethical role of robots in modern society. Many thoughtful questions from the audience at the end, and the video is now posted on YouTube.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
URL https://christianevidence.org/2022/01/27/questions-of-our-times-webinars-will-follow-the-science/
 
Description Guest lecture in Social Robotics course 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A guest lecture on social robotics to undergraduate and postgraduate students in Psychology at the University of Glasgow
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Guest lecture: "Face-to-face conversation with socially intelligent robots" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Guest lecture to a group of postgraduate students at Sapienza University of Rome on their human-robot interaction course
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Invited lecture (online) at the ICAPS 2020 Online Summer School on Automated Planning & Scheduling - Planning and Plan Execution for Human-Robot Interaction 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited lecture as part of the 2020 International Conference on Automated Planning and Scheduling Summer School. The event was held online due to COVID-19. The project and its work was mentioned during the talk.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://icaps20subpages.icaps-conference.org/students/summer-school/
 
Description Invited talk (online) for Sapienza University, Rome, Italy - Using Epistemic Planning for Task-Based Human-Robot Interaction 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited online talk for Sapienza University, Rome, Italy. This event was held online due to COVID-19. Research related to the project was presented as part of this talk.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Invited talk at REDOUBLE workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Robots have found their way into public spaces such as museums, airports, commercial malls, banks, company showrooms, hospitals, and retirement homes, to mention a few examples. The tasks these robots fulfil are normally either based around entertainment such as in museums and shopping malls or delivery and support roles that do not necessarily involve Human-Robot Interaction (HRI). In recent years, however, there has been a push towards bringing robots into healthcare as part of patient-facing roles such as in the STRANDS and recent SPRING large-scale EU projects. This has been accentuated by the current pandemic where human-human interaction has become a thing to avoid as much as possible which has resulted in an increased interest in the use of assistive technology such as HRI in the healthcare sector. While the aim is admirable, current Socially Assistive Robots (SARs) are still facing great challenges even in normal day to day interaction. The main causes are hardware and software that have been designed to support reactive single-user interactions with the robot waiting to be instructed. This is complemented by limitations in understanding the robot's surrounding environment including the beliefs and motivations of its interaction partners. This often leads to miscommunication which is detrimental in a domain that requires absolute trust such as in healthcare.

While decades of research in HRI have been dedicated to creating robotic systems that can interact with humans, the task of providing healthcare requires special attention due to its delicate nature and the required trust in the interaction partner. If robots are to be accepted in patient-facing roles, their behaviour has to be reliable and trustworthy as well as explainable and auditable. So while the use of robots in healthcare could have a tremendous social impact and help shape the future of care provision, there are still large hurdles to overcome.

With this workshop, we aim to bring together researchers from the fields of Human-Robot Interaction, Trust in AI, XAI, Healthcare, Ethics, Social Sciences, etc. to discuss topics related to the use of robots as care providers or support for care staff, the issues they face to gain the required trust to fulfil their role, and the societal issues surrounding this movement.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://sites.google.com/view/redouble2021/home
 
Description Keynote talk at CUI @ IUI workshop 2021 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact This workshop aims to bring together the Intelligent User Interface (IUI) and Conversational User Interface (CUI) communities to understand the theoretical and methodological challenges in designing, deploying and evaluating CUIs.

Whilst the use of CUIs has continued to grow in recent years, significant challenges remain in creating established theoretical and methodological approaches for researching CUI interactions. These include assessing the impact of interface design on user behaviours and perceptions, developing design guidelines, understanding the role of personalisation and issues around ethics and privacy.

Dr Mary Ellen Foster gave a keynote talk at this workshop
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL http://speechinteraction.org/IUI2021/programme.html
 
Description Keynote talk at SICSA annual conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Scottish Informatics & Computer Science Alliance (SICSA) Conference has been an annual event since SICSA began in 2008. This year the focus will be on Sustainability & Resilience. We have a full schedule of Keynote Talks, Skills & Education Sessions, Panel Sessions, a showcase of cutting edge-research from Scotland's Centres for Doctoral Training. Our colleagues from the Research Innovation Scotland (RIS) will be joining us for an interesting interdisciplinary panel discussion between the Scottish Research Pools and Innovation Centres.

Dr Mary Ellen Foster gave a keynote talk about social robotics in general, with specific mention of the current project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://sicsaconf.org/
 
Description NEW RESEARCH FUNDING FOR PROJECT TO REDUCE CHILDREN'S MEDICAL DISCOMFORT 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Article in University of Glasgow news page presenting the project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.gla.ac.uk/news/archiveofnews/2020/february/headline_712166_en.html
 
Description Panel on "Embodied AI: Virtual Humans and Social Robots" at University of Utrecht 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact I was one of four members on a panel discussion on the topic of Virtual Humans and Social Robots.

The general goal of the event was to understand the research field, build community and increase the visibility of the Dutch expertise on both a national and international level. During the panel discussion, the following areas were covered:
What is the role of embodiment in intelligence? Why do we need AI with embodiment in the form of virtual agents and robots?

Are there unique angles in countries on how Embodied AI is explored? What are some of the main research perspectives and traditions on Embodied AI?

How can virtual agents and robots become part of society beyond research? Is there a market for these embodied agents? What are the main application domains?

How do we best prepare or train the next generation of Embodied AI researchers?

There were also audience questions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Potsdam Computational Linguistics Colloquium 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact A colloquium talk to the Potsdam Computational Linguistics Colloquium -- presentation of research results and discussion with group members.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Research Workshop: Knowledge Engineering for Planning and Scheduling (KEPS) at ICAPS 2020 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Research workshop organised as part of the 2020 International Conference on Automated Planning and Scheduling (ICAPS), the top automated planning conference, held online this year due to COVID-19. Approximately 65 researchers (university academics, industrial experts, and postgraduate students) attended the workshop. The automated planning techniques used on the project were a central theme of this workshop. A workshop on a similar theme has been accepted for the next ICAPS conference.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://icaps20subpages.icaps-conference.org/workshops/keps/
 
Description SICSA Cyber-Physical Systems Online Seminar on Robots in Healthcare 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact A talk presented through the SICSA Cyber-Physical Systems theme describing the project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.sicsa.ac.uk/events/2nd-scottish-online-seminar-on-robots-in-healthcare/