If you ever have the pleasure of meeting Cynthia Breazeal of the MIT Media Lab, you’ll come away believing that robots are social creatures that can change our lives in ways you never thought possible. Her state-of-the-art work turning technology into trusted sidekicks that interact with people on a personal, human level is extraordinary. With the ability to recognize faces and physical features, these socially intelligent robots look you in the eyes, respond to your gestures, follow the same body language cues that people do, and are also able to adapt and learn.
Studies have shown that the physical embodiment of these robots is much more effective at keeping someone engaged over the long haul than a character on a screen. Their ability to encourage, empathize and persuade opens up all sorts of possibilities, but none more exciting than in healthcare.
Think for a moment about chronic disease management and the need for people to have persistent, supportive coaches to help them—chronic needs such as diabetes and obesity management—imagine having a friendly, motivating partner providing the day-to-day encouragement and care needed to stick with a program. The robot coach becomes part of your social fabric, offering support any time you need it, in the convenience of your own home.
Right now, payers are looking for disease management programs from pharmaceutical companies—programs beyond the pill—that demonstrate measurable outcomes. If pharma partnered with the MIT robotics lab in the development of these human-robot interfaces, it could be a transformative partnership for healthcare—particularly for chronic condition management. A socially assistive robot could play an essential role in sustained behavior changes to mitigate the life-long impact of chronic diseases.
These robots are multifunction systems that represent human transformation technology, and that’s why I am nominating the social robot as the JUICE GameChanger of the Year.
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