Community Corner: The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Terrace

At Weinberg Terrace, we value our close relationships with community partners. Recently, we participated in an innovative study by CMU’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute and a research team of PhD students from the University of Wisconsin’s People and Robots Lab Department of Computer Sciences. Over several weeks, the research team worked with Weinberg Terrace residents to explore the ways in which robots can help homebound seniors interact with the external world.

These robots, called conversational telepresence robots, are equipped with cameras, video screens, speakers and microphones. This technology allows the person interacting with the robot to see what the robot “sees,” hear what it “hears” and they can speak to it.

Our residents engaged in and performed various data collecting activities including brainstorming, sketching, group sorting, ranking and role-playing scenarios in order to capture the “thinking process.”  Each participating resident had the opportunity to visit a lakefront and/or an indoor botanical garden via the robot, which they controlled using verbal commands. Alternatively, the robot could guide them through the location. The robot also initiated conversations with the residents and asked questions such as, “Are there any special memories when you were a student?” In the final phase of the research, the robot facilitated a conversation between the resident and a remote bystander, a member of the research team, by alerting the resident to the bystander’s presence and asking if they would like to say hello.

The researchers discovered that many residents reminisced when they virtually visited familiar environments. They also expressed interest in learning more about these locations by engaging with the robot and conversing with bystanders.

We are thrilled that this research has been accepted into a top tier conference in robotics and will be presented in Copenhagen this summer! We are proud that Weinberg Terrace is acknowledged in this research publication and are delighted that our residents had the opportunity to participate in such an interesting study.

-Pearl Averbach, LCSW, PCHA

Executive Director, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Terrace