Canadian Seniors Embrace Love Robots for Social Connection and Comfort

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Upon her encounter with “social robots” during her visit to Japan, Assistant Professor Dr. Lillian Hung of the University of British Columbia felt an immediate desire to integrate these unique AI companions into Canadian society. These love robots, or “lovots”, bear distinctive round, pet-like designs and exhibit responsive interactions to human voice and facial expressions.

“Lovots embody an irresistible charm”, says Dr. Hung, a Canada Research Chair in Senior Care. Robotic companions such as these can sing, dance, and follow their human friends, ultimately reaffirming their sense of love and belonging.

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Dr. Hung successfully negotiated a loan of two of these $5,000 lovots for a study conducted at the West Vancouver’s Amica senior living facility. Her mission: observe how elderly residents, many of whom endured extended periods of isolation during the pandemic, respond to these self-charging robotic companions.

According to Dr. Hung, an increasing need for social connection among the senior community has paved the way for innovative solutions like lovots. These robots, aptly named Kiwi and Mango, mimic affectionate and playful responses the more they interact with their human counterparts. They are even programmed to show signs of petty jealousy when one appears to receive more attention than the other.

One resident, Sally Carmichael, finds the robots delightful. “They may seem unusual at first, but once you get acclimated, they’re quite charming,” she remarks. Observing their potential impact on the post-pandemic senior community, she emphasized their potential benefits for introverted individuals who might be hesitant to venture out and socialize.

Peter Christiansen, the facility’s community operations manager, reported diverse reactions among the residents. “The lovots stir quite an array of responses from residents– excitement and adoration for some, apprehension for others, and many simply enjoy having a unique tale to recount to their grandchildren.”

Amica residents will be hosting their robotic comrades, Kiwi and Mango, every Saturday. Although Dr. Hung’s research study featuring the lovots is due to end in March 2024, this by no means delineates the end of their stay. If the impact of these lovots proves positive, Christiansen aims to explore the option of making them permanent members of the Amica community.

Resident Carmichael expresses genuine admiration for the bot she first met just an hour earlier. “Initially apprehensive, I now find myself open to the idea of having a permanent robot companion,” she shares.