Authors: Yi-Shin Chen,
Yeh-Liang Hsu, Jun-Ming Lu (2012-04-16); recommended: Yeh-Liang Hsu
Note: This paper is
presented at the 43rd International Symposium on Robotics (ISR 2012),
Taipei, Taiwan, August, 2012.
TRiCmini+ – Telepresence Robot for Interpersonal
Communication for Older Adults
associated with an increased risk of isolation. Information and communication
technologies have been utilized to assist homecare of older adults. However, in
addition to transmitting vital sign data for healthcare purposes, older adults
may expect to share their life experiences and feelings by different forms of interactions with their children and family
members. Communication tools did facilitate
interpersonal communication in terms of real-time verbal communication.
Nevertheless, nonverbal communication, such as facial expression and body language,
is more powerful and efficient in conveying ideas, thoughts, and emotions.
a telepresence robot for interpersonal communication developed in this
research, demonstrates extensive capability to provide different levels of
“care delivery” to older adults through vital sign monitoring, interpersonal
communication, robotic movements, and social network integration. TRiCmini+
integrates two distinct applications, the “Care Delivery Frame (CDF)” and the
telepresence robot. CDF is an App designed for older adults as an information
channel on the tablet PC, which is also the “face” of TRiCmini+. CDF is integrated with social network services, and remote
caregivers can share messages, photos or video clips with older adults. Moreover,
the tablet is also the control center of the robot. In this
innovative control structure, the robot control App can be downloaded and maintained easily through the
The prototype and functional test of TRiCmini+ have been completed. The Internet bandwidth
required is at least 150/5kB for smooth real-time communication. Currently it
is under usability evaluation, including the interface design and operation
efficiency for both remote and local users. Finally, the effectiveness of
communication will be evaluated in real application scenarios to confirm the
“care delivery” in different forms provided by TRiCmini+ actually meets
the expectation of older adults.
Keywords: Interpersonal Communication,
Care Delivery, Gerontechnology, Telepresence Robot.
associated with an increased risk of isolation. Information and communication
technologies (ICT) have been utilized to assist homecare of older adults.
Telehomecare, or the more modern term home telehealth, can be defined as “the
use of information and communication technologies to enable effective delivery
and management of health services at a patient’s residence” . It has been
the primary form of applying ICT in homecare. However, in addition to
transmitting vital sign monitoring data for healthcare purposes, the essence of
“care” to the older adults should emphasize more on the care from people. The
older adults may expect more on communicating with their children and family
members, as well as sharing of life experiences and feelings by different forms
tools such as mobile phones and video conferencing systems did facilitate
remote interpersonal communication in terms of real-time verbal communication.
Nevertheless, verbal communication is not the only means of face-to-face
communication. In fact, nonverbal communication, such as facial expression and
body language, is more powerful and efficient in conveying ideas, thoughts,
feelings, and emotions. Mehrabian and Ferris reported that in face-to-face
communication, clues from spoken words, voice tone, and facial expression
contribute 7%, 38%, and 55% respectively to the total comprehension .
Besides, based on the analyses of recorded video tapes, Argyle et al. claimed
that non-verbal cues had 4.3 times the effect of verbal cues in communication
Robot for Interpersonal Communication (TRiC)” has been developed by Gerontechnology
Research Center (GRC) in Yuan Ze University. It provides not only verbal
communication but also the nonverbal aspects of interpersonal communication
. TRiC is used as the avatar or agent of the caregiver in a remote home
environment. As shown in Figure 1, with the wireless LAN router located in the
home environment, TRiC is connected to the Internet for data and audio/video transmission.
The remote user manipulates TRiC through the user interface on a laptop/desktop
computer to freely move it around and communicate with the local user, who is
staying with the robot in the home environment. However, one problem with TRiC
is that, as shown in Figure 2, TRiC becomes a “dummy” if no one logins from
Figure 1. User
scenario while remote user login the TRiCmini.
Figure 2. TRiCmini becomes
a “dummy” if no one logins from remote site.
Delivery Frame (CDF)”, another development from GRC, is a software App designed
for older adults who are not familiar with the operation of computers and
Internet as a unique information channel on the tablet PC . In addition to
health data monitoring, children/caregivers can “deliver care” to their seniors
not living together by warm messages and thoughtful reminders on the CDF, as
well as sharing their feelings, joy, and life experience by sharing photos and
video clips remotely on the CDF (see Figure 3).
Figure 3. Care
Delivery Frame and its four main functions.
As shown in
Figure 4, “TRiCmini+” presented in this paper is the 3rd generation
of TRiC which integrates two distinct applications, CDF and the telepresence
robot. TRiCmini+ is tele-operated by the remote user via the
Internet, and the three-dimensional face-to-face interaction is duplicated with
two-way audio and video communication, as well as robotic movement. By
integrating with CDF, TRiCmini+ also demonstrates extensive capability
to provide different levels of “care delivery” to the older adults through
vital sign monitoring and other forms of interactions, even if no one logins
from remote site to control TRiCmini+.
Figure 4. TRiCmini+
and its four main functions.
TRiCmini+ provides the following 4 main functions:
Vital sign monitoring
Facial expressions and robotic movements
Social network integration
Section II introduces the system structure of TRiCmini+ and the technical details of each module; Section III describes
the functions of TRiCmini+ which deliver care
in different forms. Finally Section IV concludes this paper.
System structure of Tricmimi+
Figure 5 shows
the information structure of TRiCmini+ in the home environment. In
this structure, the tablet PC, which contains the CDF software, robot control
function, video/audio conferencing and facial expression functions, is the core
of the system.
Figure 5. The information structure of TRiCmini+
At the local
user site, vital sign data such as blood pressure and blood glucose are
transmitted to the tablet via Bluetooth for vital sign monitoring purposes
using the CDF software. The remote user can login the tablet via the Internet
to browse the vital sign data or to control TRiCmini+ for
can be separated into a tablet and a robotic vehicle. As shown in Figure 6, the
tablet conducts Internet communication, audio/video conferencing, and is also
the face of TRiCmini+ for displaying facial expressions. The robotic
vehicle contains a power module and a movement module. The tablet can also be
easily removed from the robotic vehicle for personal use. The technical details
of the 5 modules of TRiCmini+ are explained below.
Figure 6. The system
structure of TRiCmini+.
(1) Internet communication
is connected to the Internet for data/command transmission via 3G mobile
communication of the tablet. The remote user relies on the user interface
software on a computer or mobile device to login to the tablet to communicate
with the local user. Commands from the remote user are transmitted to the tablet
to trigger facial expression and audio/video conferencing function within the tablet, or are
relayed to the movement module of the robotic vehicle
via Bluetooth to control robot movement.
(2) Facial expression
For more engaged
user experiences, TRiCmini+ is given the
ability to present facial expressions and whole-body emotions. Facial expressions are
built as animations on the tablet which allows the
remote user to switch among the 6 universal facial expressions proposed by
Ekman , “happiness,” “anger,” “disgust,” “sadness,” “fear,” and “surprise.” In
addition, the servo motors in the movement module help to create TRiCmini+’s
arm gestures. By combining these two features and some special patterns of robotic vehicle movements, TRiCmini+ will be able to produce multiple whole-body
emotions. As the remote user chooses one of the 6 whole-body emotions, the movement
module is triggered for the associated pattern of arm gestures and movements,
while the tablet enables the presentation of specific facial expression.
(3) Audio/video conferencing
enables two-way audio and video communication through TRiCmini+. The voice and images of the local user are captured by the microphone
and camera on the tablet. With the neck design of the TRiCmini+,
the camera on the tablet can be controlled by the remote user to trace the
local user. An additional speaker embedded in TRiCmini+ further
amplifies the audio to the local user. Moreover, the local user can choose to
display the image of the remote user or the animated facial expression on the
(4) Movement module
The core of the
movement module in the robotic vehicle is an Arduino microprocessor. The Arduino
microprocessor is equipped with Bluetooth shield for data transmission between the tablet and the robotic
vehicle. There are 3 sets of motors and omnidirectional
wheels controlled by a motor controller, and 3 ultrasonic
sensors in this module. Once a command from the remote user is received by the
tablet and relayed to the movement module, the controller will run the
algorithm to determine how the motors will trigger the omnidirectional wheels.
In this way, TRiCmini+ can freely move forwards/backwards
or left/right with the speed of about 12 cm/s, as well as turning clockwise/counterclockwise. The ultrasonic
sensors will help to detect the objects in the surrounding environment. After
the execution of algorithms on the controller, motors will work in
varied ways for different purposes.
(5) Power module
includes a 12V LiFePO4 battery and a power management circuit board. If the
battery is about to run out, an LED light on the power management circuit board
will flash. Then, as the local user plugs into the electric socket for
charging, the light keeps shining. Once battery is fully charged, the
light goes off.
of TRiCmini+ is exactly the user interface for local users. For a
higher level of anthropomorphism, as shown in Figure 7, its inner structure
consists of the head (the tablet), body (containing the movement
module and power module), two arms (integrated with servo motors for arm
motions), and a round base (equipped with omnidirectional wheels for
movements). Figure 8
presents the appearance design and basic spec of TRiCmini+. Considering the convenience of use and the
friendliness, TRiCmini+ is in a compact size of 45.5 cm tall and
weighing 3.6 kg.
The prototype and functional test of TRiCmini+
have been completed. The Internet bandwidth required is at least 150/5kB for
smooth real-time communication. Currently it is under usability evaluation,
including the interface design (software interface and robot facial/physical
expressions) and operation efficiency for both remote and local users. Finally,
the effectiveness of interaction in different forms will be evaluated in real
application scenarios (home environment and senior users) to confirm the “care
delivery” provided by TRiCmini+ actually meets the expectation
of older adults.
Figure 7. The arms and skeleton design of TRiCmini+.
Figure 8. External design and basic spec of TRiCmini+
Forms of Care Delivery
through TRiCmini+ in either verbal or non-verbal ways will be
generated in 4 different forms: vital sign
communication, physical movement and social network integration.
(1) Vital sign monitoring
The basic care
delivery form is the vital sign transmission, storage and analysis. It is also
the smallest home telehealth system. All technical functions of a home
telehealth system are built on the tablet. The vital sign data are transmitted to the
remote users via the Internet. As shown in Figure 9, remote users browse the health monitoring
data and do the data analysis on their smart phones.
Figure 9. Vital sign data monitoring and analysis interface.
(2) Interpersonal communication
Older adults can
use the video and audio communication function to do the verbal communication
with their families/caregivers through TRiCmini+, similar to using
telephones or video conferencing system.
For the local
user, the voice will be louder or softer when TRiCmini+ comes closer
or farther, which is similar as in the real face-to-face interaction between
two people. As the local user responds, the voice message will be received by
the microphone and then transmitted to the remote user’s side as well as the
video images. Through the speaker or earphone, the remote user will hear exactly
what the local user says.
As shown in
Figure 10, the user interface for remote users enables the user-friendly and
intuitive manipulation of the position of the camera, the omnidirectional
movements, facial expressions and whole-body emotions. Towards a universal
design for all users, graphic symbols are used for better recognition. Besides,
consistency and usability of the user interface are emphasized. Moreover, the
content layout follows user experiences and expectations.
Figure 10. Interpersonal communication interface for remote users.
(3) Facial expressions and robotic movement
communication plays an important role in an interpersonal communication. In
addition to spoken words, messages can also be communicated through other symbols.
Thus, by integrating facial expressions and robotic
movement, simulated physical access are enabled to deliver the nonverbal ways
of communication. Normally, the facial expressions display automatically by
following the setup rules while no one login from remote. Remote users or
caregivers can use the robot control function to achieve not only the movement
control but also the nonverbal communication by choosing the facial expressions
and robotic movements.
As discussed earlier, TRiCmini+ is given the ability to present facial expressions
and even whole-body emotions among the 6 universal
facial expressions. The expressions of robotic
movements are extended from facial expressions such as waving, hugging, raising
hand, covering face (to express surprising). By combining facial and robotic
movements and some special patterns of movements, TRiCmini+ will be able to produce multiple whole-body emotions.
(4) Social Network Integration
services (SNS) such as Facebook are
the most popular communication platforms for younger generation. Users register
in Facebook, create a personal
profile, then they may add other users as friends, and exchange messages,
photos, video clips, etc. Facebook is
not only a platform for social activities but also create the social contents
for its users.
motivation for younger generation to interact with the older adults, TRiCmini+
is integrated with Facebook to
provide a wide range of information
sharing easily and conveniently. TRiCmini+ (actually the CDF
software in the tablet) can be a “friend” to the children/family members on Facebook. Vital sign data monitoring, remote
photo sharing and caring messages can all be done from Facebook by the remote user, as shown in Figure 11.
Vital sign data monitoring
message: The health monitoring data received by the tablet be posted as a
message on Facebook automatically.
Thus, children/family members can get this information if they include TRiCmini+
as their “friend” on Facebook.
Caring messages: Children/family
members can send warm caring messages to their seniors to display on the tablet
Remote photo sharing: Children/family
members uploaded photos and videos clips to Facebook.
, as the “friend” on Facebook, TRiCmini+
in the local user site, downloaded those photos, video clips automatically. Management
of the display sequence and timing on the tablet can be performed remotely.
with information service companies, tablet can also be a platform to display life
information such as weather, shopping, as well as music and other entertainment
Figure 11. CDF interactive with
personal Facebook account
Older adults may
expect to share their life experiences and feelings by different forms of interactions with their children and family
members. “TRiCmini+” has been developed to
provide both verbal and
nonverbal aspects of interpersonal communications. The
three-dimensional face-to-face interaction is duplicated with two-way audio
communication. It also demonstrates extensive capability to provide different
levels of “care delivery” to older adults through robotic movement, vital sign
monitoring, and other forms of communications.
TRiCmini+ delivers an innovative system
infrastructure of telepresence robot by using the
tablet is also the control center of the telepresence robot, and robot
control functions are developed as another App on the tablet. Under this innovative control
structure, the robot control App can be downloaded, maintained and
updated easily through the Internet. TRiCmini+ also integrates
with social network services such as Facebook, in order to raise motivation for
younger generation to interact with the older adults.
In summary, TRiCmini+
intends to provide different forms of interaction and care delivery in order to
meet the expectation of older adults.
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