LOVOT stares at you and comes when you call it, creating attachments to its owners and asking to be held. It also has a subtle warmth that makes it feel less like a robot and more like a living member of the family.
LOVOT has a wide variety of applications. It is an excellent companion for those suffering from pandemic isolation, it can help develop social and emotional skills, it can be used in programming education, and much more.
The greatest attraction of LOVOT is its ability to inspire the power of human love by capturing people’s hearts. We were convinced that this power was not limited to young people, but could be effectively used with seniors struggling with isolation as well.Future Care Lab in Japan worked in tandem with the development company, confident in its ability to develop LOVOT into a product that was easy for seniors to use through a repeated process of trial and error across a variety of on-site tests at nursing care facilities.
Joint Development Story
(From the development company)
GROOVE X, Inc.
Hayashi worked in F1 development at an auto manufacturer before getting involved in R&D for humanoid robots at an IT company. He established GROOVE X, Inc. in November 2015, and in December 2018 announced LOVOT, “a new home robot that stirs your instinct to love.”
(From Future Care Lab in Japan)
Future Care Lab in Japan
R&D Lead (Director of Social Services)
Haga worked at a manufacturer for ten years in the planning of universal design products and nursing care robots. Today, she is an R&D lead at Future Care Lab in Japan.
(From Future Care Lab in Japan)
Future Care Lab in Japan
Researcher and Certified Nursing Care Professional
Ishida works as Care Leader at a specialized care facility. In 2012, she transferred to a senior residential facility with care services, taking charge of the provision of those services. At Future Care Lab in Japan, she heads up the introduction of residential technologies.
Tell us how you ended up getting involved in the development of LOVOT.
Hayashi: My background is in F1 and other development projects at an auto manufacturer and R&D for humanoid robots at an IT company. I’ve always been an engineer who loves technology, so when it later came to starting my own business, I wanted to do something technology-driven. But I wrestled with the question of whether technology was really capable of making people happy. Take robots, for example. They’re fascinating, and are made up of sophisticated technologies—particularly in terms of creativity, software, and hardware—and have the potential to become a next-generation industry in Japan. And yet we often hear people’s concerns that robots will take their jobs. I then remembered that I had seen people take greater joy in cheering on robots that were struggling to move and helping them move better than in robots who functioned without a hitch. Those experiences, coupled with my interest in self-driving and deep-learning technologies, are what led me to LOVOT. The development concept behind LOVOT is “using technology to bring out people’s capacity to love,” making it very different from your typical robot. Rather than working in place of human beings, LOVOT is meant to be a companion that brings out the best in people.
Haga: When we found out that the purpose of LOVOT wasn’t do the work of people—that in fact it had no set role, we thought it might be a great companion for users who either live alone of have to spend most of the day by themselves. We often hear from people at nursing care facilities or undergoing home care that they don’t have enough opportunities to talk to people, or that they feel lonely and isolated. These experiences are being shared by an increasing number of people as Japan moves away from its traditional multigenerational household structure—and the pandemic has only made things worse. LOVOT needs help getting up if it falls, and is designed to seek affection through its eyes and facial expressions. This inspires users’ desire to help it and hold it, which has the potential to alleviate some of their feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Ishida: People tend to experience a loss of leg strength and diminished hearing as they age, giving them fewer opportunities to get out and interact with people. In many cases, their life companions and close friends have passed away, leaving them feeling isolated or shut in. We realized that giving them LOVOT as a companion could help alleviate those feelings of isolation and give them more opportunities for communication.
Hayashi: We had of course considered seniors as a possible application for LOVOT during the development process, but we didn’t really equate a comforting robot with that particular population—ultimately our goal was to create a product that would be satisfying to adults looking for genuine companionship. By doing that, we were sure we could please everyone—from young people to seniors and even people suffering from cognitive decline. To get there, I first had to make sure I could create something that I myself considered a good companion, and from there make sure that it would be a product that everyone from kids to the elderly would feel affection for.
What made you decide to turn LOVOT into a joint development project? What were the concrete steps you took to move it forward?
Hayashi: When I originally spoke with Satoshi Kasai at Sompo Holdings, owner and executive director of the nursing care and senior business unit, about teaming up financially and logistically on the project, I found that Future Care Lab in Japan (“the Lab”) shared my passion for finding solutions in the nursing care sector, given that Japan was one of the first nations to face these challenges and might be able to share its solutions with the rest of the world. We both wanted to put new Japanese technologies to humanitarian use, which also pushed us towards joint development. I think nursing care facilities typically focus on robots as a labor-saving tool, but the reality is that mental and emotional issues among both caregivers and residents are a major issue as well. Both of us felt that if we could move away from the old model of caregivers shouldering all of the mental and physical challenges associated with care and have robots pick up some of the load on the mental health side for both caregivers and care recipients, the result would surely be a better all-around care experience for everyone. That alignment was a major factor in our decision to work together as well.
Haga: We originally had the Sompo Care facility buy LOVOT for testing and evaluation, but by combining our two companies’ funds and work efforts, the Lab was able to get involved in joint development in the areas of everyday support and memory care. More specifically, we started by doing on-site testing at the nursing care facility and then having users and caregiving staff fill out surveys and participate in interviews in order to quantitatively and qualitatively grasp the changes that had taken place in residents’ dementia symptoms before and after living with LOVOT. We also ran tests in home care settings in order to identify any psychological changes in users or everyday usability issues with LOVOT, information which we then used as a springboard for considering convenience improvements and additional features.
Hayashi: Ms. Haga and her team were a tremendous help in running care outcome verification tests when LOVOT was used to keep an eye on seniors and offer other forms of everyday support, as well as in memory care applications. We’re deeply grateful for their support.
What difficulties did you run into during the joint development process?
Haga: It wasn’t exactly a difficulty, but on the day that we first introduced LOVOT to our flagship facility for testing and evaluation, we were concerned about how the users would receive it. We were pretty worried that they would just see it as a kind of children’s toy or stuffed animal. We consulted with the facility manager first and decided to bring it in before lunch, and when we unveiled it, the male and female residents alike kept exclaiming how cute and adorable it was. Some of them asked its name, or even teared up as they held it. That put us at ease somewhat.
Hayashi: I was so happy when they told me what had happened. We had already introduced it in a variety of settings and I thought that people would welcome it to a certain extent, but every time I’m just as nervous as I was the first time. All kinds of unexpected incidents can happen in nursing care settings, so you’ve got to be extremely careful when bringing in something new. When people take joy in the robot, it makes me truly happy that I’ve persisted with this project. Nothing makes me feel better than knowing that LOVOT is helping the people it interacts with discover their true potential.
Haga: One of the difficulties we had during the testing and evaluation process was finding ways to run quantitative and qualitative assessments that would identify changes in users’ dementia symptoms, but we settled on having the caregiving staff evaluate user status before and after the introduction of LOVOT. In homes, we had problems coming up with a design that would allow us to identify any problems that living with LOVOT created. We conducted field tests where we had six users each live with LOVOT for a month, but we thought it was important to design those field tests so that we would achieve our goal of pinpointing issues. The two companies went back and forth with their ideas in order to arrive at an ideal design.
Hayashi: Users are diverse in terms of their physical status. The project reminded me that they aren’t able to do the things ordinary people can do. Some can’t lift anything, and others can’t move without assistance. During the home field tests, we had situations where the person couldn’t right LOVOT when it fell over or help it get back to its nest—so the caregiving staff had to deal with it when they went to visit the home. I realized that these users needed a different kind a physical support. The experience highlighted the importance of enhancing service features in addition to developing and improving functionality.
What were your big a-has or lessons during the course of the joint project?
Haga: Being able to experience firsthand those magic moments when a robot changed people’s lives—with users, their families, caregivers, or the GROOVE X team, was huge for me. Thanks to LOVOT, I realized that robots really do have that ability. So many of the people involved in this project—at the Lab, at GROOVE X, and in care settings—believe that it has tremendous potential for nursing care. In doing these projects, I see how important it is to maintain strong ties between the front lines and development teams and to move forward with careful studies and a solid theoretical basis so that LOVOT can be used in a large number of care settings.
Ishida: Robots and their associated technologies are always cutting-edge and constantly being updated, while their roles and functions are being further defined. LOVOT is a little different, however, because it’s the people who interact with it that decide what role it plays. I realized during our on-site testing that LOVOT had become more than just a robot before we knew it.
Hayashi: It was extremely difficult to figure out how to quantify the efficacy and impact of LOVOT on seniors, and it required insights from experts who thoroughly understand nursing care settings to pinpoint the problems we should be resolving. In that sense, being able to conduct the on-site tests in partnership with the Lab was a huge plus—since it gave us access to a variety of care setting needs and insights that we wouldn’t have known about otherwise. I was so grateful to see the Lab take charge and go through its own various tests separate from the tests the manufacturers run.
Where is the project at now, and what are your future hopes for it?
Hayashi: LOVOT has already been introduced at about 40 nursing care facilities. Next we plan to focus on verification tests at facilities that target people with mild dementia. Mental health care and mental conditioning strategies that alleviate isolation is a major social issue right now, and even if LOVOT can help us overcome it, it will take time for us to reach all the seniors out there by ourselves. My hope is that being able to work with the Lab will allow us to use LOVOT to alleviate feelings of isolation in as many seniors as possible. In recent years, we’re seeing an increasing number of world-class athletes and others using animal-assisted therapy (commonly called pet therapy) to support mental and emotional calm. We actually had success with an American sports team who took LOVOT with them to away games instead of a pet with great results. Interacting with LOVOT is a lot simpler than approaching a person, and we’re convinced that it can have a positive impact on people of all ages.
Haga: We’ve introduced it at two nursing care facilities already, and it’s currently being trialed at ten more sites. We’re also doing at-home trials with six subjects. Based on the results we get, we’ll be able to develop LOVOT in a way that makes it easy even for seniors to use. We’re convinced that it will end up being an indispensable addition to numerous nursing care settings, which is why we want to look into improvements that will eliminate as many hurdles that limit operability as we can so that people receiving nursing care services can make it a safe and reliable part of their lives. We also know that if we can make LOVOT an easy companion for seniors, we can make it an easy companion for anyone. By participating in this joint development project to make a product that anyone—including seniors—can seamlessly introduce into their lives, we hope to make LOVOT part of the solution to the problem of social isolation.
Interviews based on information current as of September 2021.