New research from the University of Cambridge shows that 'wellbeing' robots have been “a major contributor” to people’s satisfaction at work.
The study, entitled Robotic Mental Well-being Coaches for the Workplace, according to authors Micol Spitale et al. shows "insights for robotic wellbeing coach design and deployment, and contributes to the vision of taking robotic coaches into the real world".
The researchers state that the World Health Organization recommends that employers take action to protect and promote mental wellbeing at work. However, the extent to which these recommended practices can be implemented in the workplace is "limited by the lack of resources and personnel availability". They present robots as showing "great potential for promoting mental wellbeing, and the gradual adoption of such assistive technology may allow employers to overcome the aforementioned resource barriers".
The study presents "the first study that investigates the deployment and use of two different forms of robotic wellbeing coaches in the workplace in collaboration with a tech company whose employees (26 coachees) interacted with either a QTrobot (QT) or a Misty robot (M)".
The authors endowed the robots with a coaching personality to deliver positive psychology exercises over four weeks (one exercise a week).
The results show that the robot form "significantly impacts coachees’ perceptions of the robotic coach in the workplace" and "coachees perceived the robotic coach in M more positively than in QT (both in terms of behaviour appropriateness and perceived personality), and they felt more connection with the robotic coach in M".
The study concludes that "robotic coaches can be beneficial in the workplace" but "there are many open challenges that need to be addressed". For instance, "people’s unrealistic expectations may be one of the barriers to adoption of robotic coaches in workplace settings" and focus group data provided to the researchers by the company also showed that "coachees’ expectations of the robot capabilities do not match reality, possibly distorted by how robots are portrayed in the media, reinforced by sales videos".