University of Groningen professor Jenny van Doorn will use €50,000 in funding from the Dutch National Research Agency to explore whether having technology “speak” in a users’ own language – namely Gronings – will make them more comfortable with using it.
As reported by the Faculty of Economics and Business blog, professor Van Doorn hopes the research will contribute to a better understanding of how to care for the elderly and increase their acceptance of care robots.
Technology is becoming an ever-larger part of the care landscape, and with ageing populations and rising life expectancy in many countries, it is likely to play an increasing role in care for the elderly. However, when people reach an advanced age, they may experience language loss (called attrition). Within the Netherlands, this is often a local, or regional language or dialect.
Speech recognition means that care robots can be operated through verbal commands and provide feedback to the user as “speech”, which makes the robots easier to use and instruct. But thus far, research has shown that elderly people are unlikely to embrace this technology, whether due to issues caused by attrition of a less-recognised language or indeed due to a reluctance to use the equipment.
Professor van Doorn and her team are hoping to close this gap by creating a text to speech implementation in the local Gronings language. Although it is falling out of use, it is estimated that around 300,000 people speak the language, most of whom live in the rural areas of the province. Many elderly people in the Groningen countryside speak Gronings fluently, and since the language is most often taught by oral tradition, it is likely to be a language that older people retreat towards.
It is hoped that Professor van Doorn’s research will begin to make more elderly people comfortable with robots, and therefore accept that a robot may be exceptionally useful in remaining independent and mobile in the latter years of their lives.
Photo source: Troy Stratzheim