Development and evaluation of an application for social robots and digital avatars to assist elderly people
Aim and Research Question(s)
Aim: This thesis aimed to develop a prototypical application that uses a digital avatar or a socially assistive robot with a particular focus on its use to support mental and physical fitness of elderly people suffering from mild cognitive impairment or dementia.
Research Question 1: What are the functional and technical requirements towards the design of a prototypical application on a mobile device and a socially assistive robot to realize future applications of cognitive training for elderly people with mild cognitive impairment or dementia?
Research Question 2: How do users rate the usability of an application that uses a digital avatar or a socially assistive robot with a particular focus on its use to support the mental and physical fitness of elderly people?
Dementia rates worldwide are increasing while the number of available caregivers is decreasing.  Research shows that the use of socially assistive robots and mobile applications offers promising results in assisting elderly people suffering from mild cognitive impairment or dementia and increasing their overall well-being. 
Methods to answer research question 1:
- a literature search combined with
- a focus group interview with seven experts from social robotics and health care domains
Methods to answer research question 2:
- an expert interview with three human-computer interaction experts and afterwards
- a usability evaluation with eight healthy elderly people
Results and Discussion
Research Question 1: The results of the literature search and the focus group interview showed that the most promising approaches to support the mental and physical fitness of elderly people are (1) memory training, (2) movement exercises, and (3) evoking old memories by showing users pictures and videos from the past. Also prototypes that aim to assist elderly people have to be as self-explaining as possible to provide a good usability.
Research Question 2: The results of the evaluation with the HCI experts and the healthy elderly people showed that the functional prototype on the Pepper robot as well as the one using the digital avatar show both great usability. Participants favour the use of the digital avatar over the use of the robot for the tasks like memory training and evoking old memories, however, prefer the robot to do the movement exercises.
An application using a digital avatar or a socially assistive robot offers great potential in assisting elderly people with their mental and physical fitness and proved to have a good usability in a first evaluation. This thesis showed that elderly users prefer the use of a digital avatar to do tasks like memory training or viewing old pictures and videos over using a robot to do these tasks. Nevertheless, for conducting movement exercises the physical embodiment of the robot seems to evoke more motivation in elderly users.
 Alzheimer’s Association, “2021 alzheimer’s disease facts and figures,” Alzheimer’s & Dementia, vol. 17, no. 3, pp. 327–406, DOI: 10.1002/alz.12328.  I. Asghar, S. Cang, and H. Yu, “The impact of assistive software application to facilitate people with dementia through participatory research,” DOI: 10.1016/j.ijhcs.2020.102471.