New Robot Helps Find People in Undesired Situations of Solitude

There has been substantial proof of the potential negative effects of undesired solitude on people. This has made specialists consider it a public health problem.

Image Credit: Ruvid

The number of people in such conditions has increased due to the confinement imposed by the health alert as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But for many people, this is a daily reality, and not an uncommon situation, as suggested by the increasing number of elderly people who live alone. Under these circumstances, their social isolation has further aggravated.

To prevent such situations, it is crucial to have tools that enable health professionals to easily detect people at risk of solitude, since this is the preliminary step toward the ability to devise interventions that will enhance this situation.

With this aim, the GIANT research group (Machine Learning for Smart Environments) of the Universitat Jaume I have developed SERENA, a conversational robot that enables locating people in unwanted situations of solitude.

A citizen science project financially supported by the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT), Serena, in its calls for proposals. promotes the achievement of actions that bring science closer to society.

Serena is the name of the chatbot developed to talk to people and assess their feelings of loneliness. With the help of the new avenues opened by novel information and communication technologies (ICT), anyone can converse with Serena using their mobile device.

The study titled “Automatic Learning as a Citizen Science Tool to Improve the Quality of Life of Elderly People and their Caregivers” is headed by lecturers Óscar Belmonte from the Department of Languages and Computer Systems and Antonio Caballer from the Department of Evolutionary, Educational and Social Psychology and Methodology, with contribution from researchers Andrea Castillo, Arturo Gascó, Raúl Montoliu, Emilio Sansano, Agustín López, and Rubén García.

This is the first-ever FECYT project proposed at the Universitat Jaume I as part of the new series of citizen science actions. Other organizations that contributed to the project are the Castelló de la Plana City Council, the Red Cross, La Plana University Hospital in Vila-real, and Teléfono de la Esperanza.

The new tool is part of the study performed by an interdisciplinary team of researchers in the fields of computer science and psychology, with the aim of responding to one of the prevalent social challenges, the loneliness of the elderly, with the relevant effect this could have on the well-being of the population.

The study leverages the opportunities offered by technology to involve the population, against the backdrop of citizen science, as an instance of research in which society plays a pivotal role in the various stages of scientific study, specifically those whose circumstances have been aggravated by the present state of panic.

The main aim of the study is to bring scientific studies closer to citizens in a contributive and accessible way, through a project of social and inclusive interest, like tools built on artificial intelligence (particularly automatic learning). Here, the purpose is to help investigate constructs like loneliness, solitude, stress, social isolation, or well-being, among others, mainly with respect to the elderly and their caretakers formally or informally.


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