Prof. Dr. Barbara Klein
Interview of December 30, 2012 with Laura I. Schmidt
Prof. Klein, at the NAR-Seminar you speak about chances and risks of emotional and social robotics in the care of the elderly. What is the meaning of those catchwords?
Emotional robotics include robots like the therapeutic seal PARO or the toy dinosaur PLEO. These robots are able to recognize how they are treated, and act and react accordingly. So therefore an emotional connection can take place. The therapeutic seal PARO can help people with cognitive impairments to relax and/or get back in touch with other people. Part of the social robotic is also the telepresence robot GIRAFF. Similar to Skype, you can phone with image transmission. Additionally, the robot can move around the apartment remote-controlled and check if everything is alright. Or enable a sick child to participate in school lessons and move around in school hallways via the telepresence robot.
A great concern of relatives and caretakers is how to increase the wellbeing and quality of life for people with dementia. How can new technologies help?
Under supervision of the social worker or occupational therapist, the therapeutic seal can be used specifically in groups, to enhance social interaction like conversations, touching of the seal and thereby stimulating the senses. In behavioural disorders, the therapeutic seal can be used to activate but also to calm the person- this can be done with the individual care of a specialist.
In Germany you are a pioneer in this field. How did you come about this field of research?
Together with Prof. Dr. Glenda Cook of the Northumbria University in Newcastle, England, we carried out expert talks on new technologies in Australia and Japan in the summer of 2008. In Japan, the focus was on robotic and we got to know the therapeutic seal PARO and its inventor Dr. Takanori Shibata. We visited the small factory in which PARO is manufactured and we were both very impressed when we experienced PARO’s use in two care facilities. Luckily the University of Applied Sciences in Frankfurt was very supportive of my research and during the same year, such a seal was purchased.
You are building an international network of emotional and social robotics (eRobotics). What cultural differences do you encounter?
The openness to use these technologies varies from country and continent- for example in Denmark, a country with 5.5 Million people, 250 seals are put in use for the care of the elderly. In Germany with 81,8 Million people, only 50 are in use. In the United States and Japan there already have been pilot projects on PARO at the end of the last millennium. Especially Japan also distinguishes itself through unusual fields of application: PARO is used as a pet substitute in narrow living spaces and also comforted Tsunami victims. All this can be explained by the high technology affinity of the Japanese people.
The use of emotional robotics is controversially discussed in Germany. What are the fundamental arguments in favour of the therapeutic use of products like PARO and PLEO and what risks do you see?
PARO and PLEO can be new therapeutic instruments. In the field research projects of the University of Applied Sciences in Frankfurt it became apparent, that they have a potential to start a conversation with one another, even after a longer period of silence, put a smile on faces of people that are in very poor health. In early support and also with a seriously disabled woman, PARO had a very relaxing effect and was able to help ease cramps. There is a high demand on research to systematically investigate the impact on the different clinical pictures.
Often mentioned apprehensions, that these technologies could make caretakers unnecessary must be taken very serious and educational work is necessary. Emotional robotics can only develop its potential in connection with qualified specialists, that see it as help and another work equipment, and not as competition.
Another risk is, that we might miss the boat on the international development. Especially because there are cultural differences, the question is which new technologies can and should be applied here, where can we make definite conclusions on the effects, what does it mean for the necessary qualifications of the specialists.
Barbara Klein researches on the subject of new technologies in the health system and developed an innovative permanent exhibition “Barrier-free living and life” at the University of Applied Sciences in Frankfurt (www.fh-frankfurt.de/barrierefrei_wohnen) and is setting up a cross media platform at (http://www.youtube.com/user/barrierefreieswohnen).
Klein studied at the Universities in Mainz, Frankfurt and London and received her diploma in sociology in 1884 at the Goethe University in Frankfurt. There she obtained her doctorate as Dr. phil. in 1994. Klein worked at the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft- the largest research company in the field of applied research in Europe- for more than 20 years. In the course of a Marie-Curie scholarship at the University of Stirling in Great Britain, she researched and taught from 1994 to 1995 on the question of quality assurance in the care of the elderly. After her return to the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, she built the marketing strategy Team Public Health in social work at the University of Applied Sciences in Frankfurt and researches on fields of application of new technologies, like robotics and assisting technologies in the health system.
Barbara Klein is married and has two children.