A robot named Stevie, cover star of Time magazine this month, is making his first visit to the UK to be tested by experts in health technology in the South West.
Stevie was designed and built by a team from Trinity College Dublin, before being sent to the United States to spend time at a retirement community in Washington D.C. His creators describe Stevie as “the world's most advanced social robot”, and as well as appearing on the magazine’s cover, he has recently been named among Time’s 100 best inventions of 2019.
Now back on this side of the Atlantic, Stevie has been placed into the care of experts from the University of Plymouth’s Centre for Health Technology.
Stevie is being trialled at Reflections day centre in Camborne. During the two weeks Stevie is spending at Reflections, he will carry out a range of activities and tasks such as leading a game of bingo, as well as simply spending time with clients of the centre. Researchers will monitor his performance and gather feedback from staff; a key test will be whether Stevie can successfully keep people engaged. It is hoped Stevie’s presence will boost wellbeing and social interaction, while freeing up human staff to work with individuals needing more attention.
Researchers from two EU-funded projects in the Centre for Health Technology are involved with the Stevie trial. Professor Ray Jones leads the eHealth Productivity and Innovation in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (EPIC) project. EPIC researcher Lloyd Taylor has been working with the Stevie team to support the robot during his time in Cornwall, and EPIC has funded Olly Smith’s new start-up company, which will help with the evaluation. Gabriel Aguiar Noury, researcher on the AGE’IN project, hosted Stevie in a Living Lab (a space for companies to test products) at the University for initial fine-tuning.
Thanks to EPIC and its close relationship with Kernow Health CIC, which represents all the county’s GP practices, care homes across the county and NHS services, health and care professionals and service user groups, Cornwall is gaining a reputation as the go-to place to trial new health technology. Access to this ‘Testbed Cornwall’, a concept that is being actively promoted by Cornwall Trade & Investment, is one factor that made sending Stevie to the South West an easy decision, according to Dr Conor McGinn, Assistant Professor at Trinity College Dublin, who leads the Stevie team of developers.
Dr McGinn said:
“This pilot is the start of an exciting new relationship with the University of Plymouth. Two things particularly excite me: a chance to link up with Plymouth in the field of robotics, and the potential to test Stevie in Plymouth and Cornwall for his very first UK pilot.”
“The aim with Stevie was to create something that empowers people to use it, whether that is service users or patients. We want people to like Stevie, and so he is deliberately not intimidating and non-judgmental. People have a very subtle ability to pick up social clues, so he has to be really finely tuned. We haven’t had anyone who hates him yet, although some take longer than others to get used to him.
“Some older people actually find it easier to open up and talk to a robot than a person. Running a game of bingo might seem frivolous, but if he can increase happiness and reduce loneliness, both of which have significant health implications, Stevie will be proving his value.”