Improvements in healthcare have led to an increase in human life expectancy. Members of this aging population want to stay healthy and active, but many forms of exercise and physical therapy are expensive, boring, or inefficient. Past research has shown that well-designed robots can play a vital role in motivating users to perform regular exercise and physical therapy.
To discover how people respond to physical exercise interactions with a robot, we have developed eight human-robot exercise games for Max, our Baxter Research Robot (developed by Rethink Robotics): six of these games involve some form of physical contact with the robot, and two involve performing movements as directed by the robot, which has been the standard approach in prior work. These games were developed with the input and guidance of experts in game design, therapy and rehabilitation [ ], as well as through extensive pilot testing [ ]. The viability of the games was then formally evaluated in a user study conducted at the Rehabilitation Robotics Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania.
Our subject group included 20 younger and 20 older adult users. Participants of both age groups were willing to enter Baxter's workspace and physically interact with the robot through all of these games [ ]. Additionally, participating in the experiment caused a significant increase in user trust and confidence in Baxter [ ]. Careful analysis of the human-robot interactions that occurred throughout the study provided us with detailed feedback on the usability of all of the games. These results support the potential use of bimanual humanoid robots for social-physical interaction in exercise and will help guide our ongoing efforts in this research domain.