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Author: Jeffrey R. Sabastian, Yeh-Liang Hsu, Jun-Ming Lu (2014-01-18); recommendation: Yeh-Liang Hsu (2014-01-18).
Note: This paper was presented in The 9th World Conference of the International Society for Gerontechnology (ISG 2014), Taipei, Taiwan, 2014/06. Gerontechnology 2014; 13(2):278

Creation of a caricature robot for social inclusion of older adults

Purpose  Communication and social participation for the older adults has become an increasingly important need to fill in the aging society. Telepresence Robots carry with them a set of technologies that can be taken advantage of, helping to aid older adults to be inclusive into the society1. The challenge presents itself when thinking on how to include a robot into the homes of older adults and caregivers, while making it feel like a natural part of their daily life? This paper presents the development of WOBOT, which is a hybrid of telepresence and companionship robots that offers an interactive way of communication through video conferencing and tele-operated facial expressions, body motions, plus built-in autonomous reactions. WOBOT is simple non-humanoid robot which put more emphasis on “fun” rather than “functions”, hoping to aid our elders in communication, leisure and companionship.  Method  WOBOT is our first design of a series of “Caricature Robots”, which are non-humanoid robots but show humanoid motions in simplified or exaggerated ways. When stationary, the appearance of WOBOT is a photo frame with two hands holding a tablet computer [Figure 1]. With three degree-of-freedom, WOBOT motions are designed based on principles of cartoon character design and animation2, 3 used by animators to produce animated films. Yet WOBOT brings some of the features in animation into real motions. Figure 2 shows the information structure of WOBOT. The remote user manipulates WOBOT through the user interface on a smart phone/tablet/PC to show cartoon-like facial expression and body motion while video conferencing with the local user, the older adult staying with the robot in the home environment. By providing both verbal and nonverbal elements of interpersonal communication, the robot can better serve as the avatar of the family members or caregivers for expressing their care to the older adults at home. WOBOT is not only a communication gate but also offers a set of autonomous reactions to interact with the older adults like a companion robot. WOBOT is in a “Body and Brain” system structure which enables it to be an open platform. New applications can be added by developing Apps on the tablet (brain), which transmits commands to the robotic platform through Bluetooth to perform requested motions.  Result and Discussion  A lab-based evaluation, in which 16 older adults aged 52 to 80 interacted with the facilitator through WOBOT, showed positive results on acceptance of WOBOT. The levels of anxiety of the older adults were low while interacting with WOBOT based on their heart rate; also the level of concentration while interacting with WOBOT is high based on the record from an eye tracker. With the aim of creating robots acceptable in the homes and following the Caricature Robot approach on expression and movement design, WOBOT Junior, a smaller version to be controlled by a smart phone is under development to create a WOBOT Family. 


1.     Tsai, T. C., Hsu, Y. L., Ma, A. I., King, T, and Wu, C. H.: 2006, Developing a telepresence robot for interpersonal communication with the elderly in a home environment, Telemedicine and e-Health, 13(4): 407-424.

2.     Disney Animation – The Illusion of Life, Walt Disney Productions, Animated Films- United States, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson, Walt Disney Productions 1981

Keywords: Communication and social participation; telepresence robot; companion robot

Figure 1. WOBOT prototype

Figure 2. WOBOT system structure