Meet NAO (pronounced “now”), an adorable two-foot-tall robot who captured the hearts of residents at Brookdale Arlington in Texas. These residents met NAO when they participated in an innovative study conducted by an interdisciplinary team from the University of Texas at Arlington’s Department of Theatre Arts, School of Social Work, and University of Texas-Arlington Research Institute (UTARI) in Fort Worth.
The study titled Shakespeare and Robots: Examining the impact of a theater intervention on psychological well-being in older adults, set out to change the human-to-human model of participatory arts. “The goal of the trial was to see if a theatre arts intervention with a human-robot model would be successful in promoting the well-being of an older adult,” said Dr. Julienne Greer, assistant professor of theatre arts at UTA.
For three weeks, eight Brookdale residents spent an hour each week reciting Shakespeare with NAO. NAO recited the first 12 lines of Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”) with all the drama of a professional actor and then asked the residents to complete the last two lines. While some residents were hesitant at first, the response was overwhelmingly positive.
“Based on the data from our study, findings suggest that there was a significant increase in engagement and a significant decrease in depression,” said Dr. Greer. “We learned that social robots are poised to become viable collaborative companions in places like Brookdale.”
The poetry performance was just the beginning of NAO’s interaction. The robot can shake hands, accompany seniors on a walk, perform Tai Chi and tell stories. The versatility was a hit with residents.
“Our residents were amazed to see firsthand how far technology has come,” said Jennifer Crutcher, director of resident programs at Brookdale Arlington. “It was a fun and awe-inspiring experience for our seniors.”
NAO is a perfect example of how something that seems so simple (a Shakespeare reciting robot) can significantly improve quality of life. It also demonstrates that seniors, just like the rest of us, get excited and engaged with novel technologies.