Talking robots could be used to combat loneliness and boost mental health in care homes

Pepper engages in conversation with a care home resident.

London (CNN)Talking robots that interact with older people could be introduced into care homes to help fight loneliness and mental ill health.

Pepper, a "culturally competent robot," was tested on care home residents in Britain and Japan -- those who interacted with it for up to 18 hours over the course of two weeks "saw a significant improvement in their mental health," researchers found.
Pepper was part of a large global study known as CARESSES, jointly funded by the European Union and the Japanese government, which investigated the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in caring for the elderly.
    The scientists behind the study also found that "after two weeks of using the system there was a small but positive impact on loneliness severity among users."
      Pepper is fully autonomous, meaning that it is not controlled by a person. The gadget, which features a tablet computer that can play music and entertainment, does not just ask and answer questions but can actually engage in and sustain conversation.
      It has been designed to be "culturally competent," meaning that it can respond to the culture-specific needs and preferences of older people.
      Dr. Chris Papadopoulos, principal lecturer in public health at the UK's University of Bedfordshire, was the lead author of the evaluation of the three-year project.
        In an online statement, he described the study as "groundbreaking," adding: "The results show that using the CARESSES artificial intelligence in robots such as Pepper has real potential benefit to a world that is witnessing more people living longer with fewer people to look after them.
        "Poor mental health and loneliness are significant health concerns and we have demonstrated that robots can help alleviate these."
        The University of Bedfordshire, Middlesex University and Advinia Health Care are the UK partners of the study, coordinated by University of Genova in Italy, which developed the robot's AI. Global researchers collaborated on the project with the robotics company SoftBank Robotics.