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Beyond Human Bonds: Crafting Companion Robots for the Future

Track: ELSE

Date and Time: 13 Mar 2024 12:00-13:20

Organisers: Marcello Chiurazzi, Emilio Trigili, Nicola Vitiello, Simona Crea

Main questions to be answered: How Robot Companions can serve as versatile tools that provide practical physical assistance and emotional support and contribute to more sustainable and active communities?

Additional questions: Which are the most inspiring and successful experiences resulting from EU-funded research projects, which highlight the revolutionary potential of merging robotics with other scientific disciplines, such as bioengineering, to create new research frontiers and development paradigms?

Additional questions 2: While robot companions offer promising solutions, it is also crucial to address ethical, privacy, and accessibility considerations. How to adress these aspects?

Workshop Description: Introduction: Modern society is facing two significant challenges: the relentless advance of climate change and the increasingly urgent needs of an aging population. On the one hand, the massive exploitation of natural resources (e.g., fossil fuels, deforestation) has a detrimental impact on climate change, with natural disasters occurring with increasing regularity. On the other hand, the increase in life expectancy in modern countries is progressively causing a huge demand for tools and services to engage older people in society, preserve their health conditions, and provide adequate support to the high number of age-related diseases. As new challenges arise, humanity has always relied on technology to overcome critical issues, improve people’s quality of life, and guarantee stability and sustainability of societal welfare. The history of progress has been consistently driven by the virtuous cycle of science-engineering-science, which has allowed humans to master new design principles and develop machines capable of assisting us in our lives and enhancing our capabilities towards: • Climate Change Mitigation and Disaster preparedness: Technology can assist in climate change-related challenges and natural disasters supporting tasks that are dangerous or time-consuming for humans, such as search and rescue missions, environmental monitoring, and disaster cleanup. They can also provide valuable data and insights for more informed decision-making in disaster response and climate mitigation efforts. Furthermore, efficiency of renewable energy production and precision agriculture can be enhanced, contributing to sustainable practices. • Assistive Technologies for Aging Populations: Technology has transformed the quality of life for elderly individuals. Wearable devices and smart home technologies can monitor health parameters, provide medication reminders, and even detect falls, ensuring that seniors can age in place with confidence and independence. Telehealth services have also become vital in connecting older adults with healthcare professionals, especially during emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. In this context, robot companions can serve as versatile tools that provide practical physical assistance and emotional support and contribute to more sustainable and active communities. We are witnessing disruptive changes in our society, where robots and artificial intelligence (AI) systems work collaboratively with human caregivers, healthcare professionals, and service providers to offer more efficient, accessible, and personalized assistance. Thus, robot companions are poised to grow as pivotal technologies to advance and adapt to the evolving needs of our society across a wide variety of application domains and functions, including: • Companionship and mental well-being: loneliness and social isolation are significant concerns for elderly individuals, and robot companions can offer companionship and emotional support when human interaction is limited. They can also assist seniors with daily tasks, such as meal preparation and housekeeping. • Enhancement or replacement of motor functions: wearable robot companions, such as exoskeletons, can act as mobility extenders to support the elderly and people with movement limitations in performing daily life activities, such as walking. Robotic prostheses can replace a lost limb completely restoring its functions. • Rehabilitation and assessment: robot companions can support clinicians in performing rehabilitation treatment tailored to the patient’s needs. Other robot companions can monitor vital signs and health parameters, providing real-time data to healthcare providers and caregivers. • Search and rescue operations: in disaster scenarios, robots can be used for search and rescue operations in hazardous environments where human safety is a concern. Robots can also be deployed after natural disasters to monitor environmental conditions, e.g., air quality, temperature, and radiation levels. • Eco-friendly Solutions: Many robot companions are designed with sustainability in mind. They can assist with energy management in smart homes and optimize resource use. Robotic platforms for smart agriculture can exploit cloud computing and AI to foster resource-efficient and environmentally friendly agricultural production. • Education and awareness: Robot companions can be used as educational tools to foster inclusion, engagement, and curiosity. While robot companions offer promising solutions, it is also crucial to address ethical, privacy, and accessibility considerations. Additionally, these robots should be designed with a human-centered approach, ensuring that they respect the autonomy and dignity of aging individuals and are adaptable to various cultural and personal preferences. Content: To promote the widespread adoption of such technologies into our daily lives and leverage the benefits arising from the advancement of AI, Europe should promote a groundbreaking transnational flagship initiative. The aim of this initiative should be creating a thriving ecosystem for service robotics research, development, and deployment. By driving innovation, fostering collaborations between academia and industry, and promoting regulatory frameworks that ensure the ethical and responsible use of robot companions, the flagship should build a more sustainable and inclusive welfare system that prioritizes the well-being and independence of individuals. Within this workshop, renowned experts will share some inspiring and successful experiences resulting from EU-funded research projects, which highlight the revolutionary potential of merging robotics with other scientific disciplines, such as bioengineering, to create new research frontiers and development paradigms. These case studies will be tangible examples of how robot companions are already entering people’s lives and positively impacting their quality of life. After the oral presentations, we will open a round table with experts from the academy and industry, as well as decision-makers, to open the debate on the needs for and the opportunities deriving from massive investments in robotics, which become essential at this time. This discussion will help us outline the actions needed to drive changes and create a future where robot companions become a valuable resource for all citizens.

Intended Outcome: Workshop discussion topics of common interest, success stories, use cases, etc

Approach: – Welcome & Agenda: prof. Marcello Chiurazzi & prof. Emilio Trigili (5 min) – Keynote Speaker (10 min): “From Past to Future: Relaunching ‘Robot Companions for Citizens'” – Prof. Paolo Dario Session (35’): Cooperative and wearable companions for human assistance in medical, industrial, and service scenarios  pitches from academia and industry – Prof. Gastone Ciuti, The BioRobotics Institute, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, (confirmed. “How can assistive robotics enhance the healthcare system towards the hospitals of the future? The European project”) – Prof. Christian Cipriani – The BioRobotics Institute, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, (confirmed. Tentative title: The myokinetic interface: implanting magnets in residual muscles to control artificial limb movements) – Gordon Cheng – TUM School of Computation, Information and Technology, TUM (confirmed. Tentative title: Fusion of Neuroscience and Robotics for embodiment of Companion Robots) – Dr. Giusy Cannillo – Chief Innovation Officer, Formula Servizi, (confirmation pending) Round Table (30’): The future of robot companions Moderator: prof. Nicola Vitiello – Prof. Paolo Dario, The BioRobotics Institute, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna & ARTES 4.0 (confirmed) – Dr. Matteo Elli, Pariter Partners (confirmed) – Prof. Andrea Bertolini, DIRPOLIS, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (confirmation pending) – Dr. Cecile Huet, Head of the Unit “Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Innovation and Excellence”, EU Commission (confirmation pending) – Prof. Bruno Siciliano, Dipartimento di ingegneria elettrica e tecnologie dell’informazione, Università di Napoli (confirmed)

Contributors: – Prof. Gastone Ciuti, The BioRobotics Institute, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, (confirmed. “How can assistive robotics enhance the healthcare system towards the hospitals of the future? The European project”) – Prof. Christian Cipriani – The BioRobotics Institute, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, (confirmed. Tentative title: The myokinetic interface: implanting magnets in residual muscles to control artificial limb movements) – Gordon Cheng – TUM School of Computation, Information and Technology, TUM (confirmed. Tentative title: Fusion of Neuroscience and Robotics for embodiment of Companion Robots) – Dr. Giusy Cannillo – Chief Innovation Officer, Formula Servizi, (confirmation pending) Round Table (30’): The future of robot companions Moderator: prof. Nicola Vitiello – Prof. Paolo Dario, The BioRobotics Institute, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna & ARTES 4.0 (confirmed) – Dr. Matteo Elli, Pariter Partners (confirmed) – Prof. Andrea Bertolini, DIRPOLIS, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna (confirmation pending) – Dr. Cecile Huet, Head of the Unit “Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Innovation and Excellence”, EU Commission (confirmation pending) – Prof. Bruno Siciliano, Dipartimento di ingegneria elettrica e tecnologie dell’informazione, Università di Napoli (confirmed)