EU project SPRING: thanks to this project we are developing robotics that could help tackle the COVID-19 pandemic

The humanoid social robot ARI during the European Project SPRING

Improving interactions for social robots in public spaces

PAL Robotics is collaborating as a partner in the EU project, SPRING, one of a number of projects especially important during the COVID-19 health pandemic. New technological solutions are needed quickly, and this includes robots – both repurposing and adapting robots in current use, such as our social humanoid robot ARI. Robots have already been adopted in various countries around the world in the fight against coronavirus (COVID-19).

Generally speaking, in recent years social robots have been used in public spaces such as museums, airports, banks, shopping centres and hospitals. However, these social robots have often simply been designed for reactive single-user interaction. Therefore, today’s Human-Robot Interaction (HRI) technology in general still needs some more adaptations to fulfil all of the needs of the above settings. That’s where the SPRING project, which started last year, comes in.

The SPRING EU-funded project with multiple partners is working on the adaptation of Socially Assistive Robots, with the ability to perform multi-person interactions and have an open and extensive dialogue.

ARI robots adapted to work in hospital settings

During this project, PAL Robotics is designing and manufacturing seven adapted robots (our high-performance ARI robots), as well as integrating the software developed by project partners. The goal is for the robot to be able to participate in different user-cases in a hospital environment, such as welcoming newcomers to the waiting room, helping with check-in/out forms, providing information about the consultation agenda, acting as a guide to appointments, and also offering entertainment.

The overall SPRING project aims are:

  • The scientific objective of SPRING is to develop a novel paradigm and novel concept of socially-aware robots including deep-learning to ground the required social robot skills.
  • The technological objective of SPRING is to create and launch a brand new generation of robots that are flexible enough to adapt to the needs of the users, and not the other way around.
  • The experimental objective of SPRING is to validate the technology based on HRI experiments in a gerontology hospital, and to assess its acceptability by patients and medical staff.

Adding developments in navigation and language to ARI

To date, PAL Robotics has specified the requirements for the ARI robot to be used in the SPRING project, focusing especially on the selection of suitable vision and audio modalities, and is manufacturing robots to be used at each partner site. As partners are developing the software to improve robot navigation, natural language processing and other skills necessary to enable multi-person dialogue in a hospital setting, PAL Robotics will go ahead with integrating them into the ARI robot.

ARI has the abilities of face recognition, natural language processing and expressive gaze, which makes it a suitable tool for human assistance. It is suitable to attend to newcomers in a hospital setting and provide basic assistance, as well as give general information through speech and a tablet (used to show images). ARI also allows tele-operation and asks questions on symptoms to provide an initial assessment and register those who may need a test.

Proposal for ARI to help hospitals during COVID-19 crisis

Following on from our ongoing contribution to the SPRING project, we have submitted a proposal for our robot ARI to help during the COVID-19 crisis in hospitals. The proposal is for ARI firstly to be deployed as a receptionist in hospitals in order to clarify general doubts and control the flow of new incoming users. Secondly, for the monitoring and assistance of those affected for example by COVID-19 that require to be isolated. The social robot ARI that can be tele-operated offers continued social interactions and adherence to treatment regimes without fear of spreading disease. The robot can also be updated with extra functionalities.

In addition to the SPRING project, PAL Robotics works on many EU-funded projects covering areas such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), smart cities and factories of the future.

We are always on the look for new potential partners, to find out more about EU funded projects or request information, visit our collaborative projects webpage and don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

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