Prof. Timothy Bickmore, in collaboration with researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, has just received a 4-year, $1.8M grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a computer agent that will provide social support for older adults living alone. Social isolation has significant negative effects on health and well-being in the elderly, with one study showing that 5-year mortality is three times higher for elders with extreme isolation.
In addition to providing companionship, the agent will motivate elders to perform a range of healthy behaviors, such as exercise, building on several health counseling agents Prof. Bickmore has already developed for older adults.
The research will be performed with the participation of elders living in urban neighborhoods around Northeastern University, and evaluated in the final two years of the effort in participants’ homes using both animated (“virtual”) and robotic agent embodiments.
The agent design will be based on an established theoretical model of collaboration extended to encompass long-term social relationships as collaborations between humans and agents. The project, entitled “Always-On Relational Agents for Social Support of Older Adults” is in collaboration with Drs. Candace Sidner and Charles Rich at WPI.