Dr. Wendy Rogers standing at podium talking; she is wearing a surgical mask
Dr. Wendy Rogers talked about her research on health and wellness robots as the 2021 King McCristal Distinguished Scholar in the College of Applied Health Sciences

McCristal Lecture Focuses on Robots

Living independently requires the ability to perform what are called Activities of Daily Living, or ADLs. Fundamental ADLs include things such as bathing, eating, getting dressed, and so on. Instrumental Activities of Daily Living, or IADLs, include more complex activities such as paying bills, preparing meals, managing medications, and the like. In 1998, Dr. Wendy Rogers, Khan Professor of Applied Health Sciences, defined a third level of Activities of Daily Living that she called Enhanced Activities of Daily Living, or EADLs. Activities such as volunteering, taking part in community activities, and engaging in hobbies enhance the quality of our lives.

Dr. Rogers, the 2021 King McCristal Distinguished Scholar in the College of Applied Health Sciences, focused her McCristal Lecture on designing robots that support successful aging related to the different kinds of activities. The lecture took place at the Fall College Meeting on August 17.

A world renowned scholar in the area of human factors and aging, Dr. Rogers has been collaborating on research related to human-robot interaction for more than 10 years, going back to her days as a professor of psychology and a principal investigator in the NIH-funded Center for Research and Education on Aging and Technology Enhancement at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Since joining AHS in 2017, she has conducted research under the auspices of the Collaborations in Health, Aging, Research, and Technology, or CHART, initiative, and also directs the recently opened McKechnie Family LIFE Home, where much of the research on health and wellness robots takes place.

When designing robots for successful aging, she said, it is important to consider the entire system. “We need to consider the characteristics of the human—their demographics, abilities, attitudes, and experiences,” she said. “We also need to think about the characteristics of the robot. What does it look like? Does it have a personality? What are its capabilities and functionalities? To what degree is it autonomous or being controlled?”

Developers also need to consider the characteristics of the task the robot and human are trying to do together, things such as how critical the task is, and whether it requires the robot and human to be co-located. Finally, the context of the interaction must be considered, whether the task is home-based or in a public setting, for example.

Dr. Rogers and her colleagues currently are investigating usability and other issues related to a robot developed by Hello Robot called Stretch. “We’ve been doing task analyses and prototyping different types of devices that Stretch could have at the end of its arm to perform different tasks, and comparing different types of control interfaces and control by different users,” she said. University of Illinois students soon will have the opportunity to participate in a competition in which they generate ideas for using Stretch to help people aging with long-term disabilities. The prize will be time with Stretch in the LIFE Home to further develop their ideas, guided by the LIFE Home’s expert staff.

Other Illinois research related to health and wellness robots includes designing socially assistive robots, robots with soft rather than rigid arms for telehealth applications, and robots that provide wayfinding assistance to individuals with visual impairments.

“We have made huge advancements in robotics in the last decade,” Dr. Rogers said, “but there’s still a lot more to be done.” And, she concluded, the McKechnie Family LIFE Home positions scholars at the University of Illinois really well to explore some of those questions.


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