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Are older people any different from younger people in the way they want to interact with robots? Scenario based survey


Numerous projects, normally run by younger people, are exploring robot use by older people. But are older any different from younger people in the way they want to interact with robots? Understanding older compared to younger people’s preferences will give researchers more insight into good design. We compared views on multi-modal human–robot interfaces, of older people living independently, with students and university staff. We showed 96 participants aged under 65 and 18 aged 65 + , six videos presenting different scenarios, including interfaces both working properly and failing, for an older man interacting with a robot by speech and touch screen tablet. Participants were asked about the interfaces they might use and why, using self-completed questionnaires with mainly open-ended questions. People over 65 were more like people under 21 than those aged 22–64 (78%, 67%, 47% respectively) in preferring speech over tablet for robot–human interaction. But reasons for doing so may differ, for example, hearing and eyesight impairment versus speaking while hands full. Older participants were more likely (83% vs. 55%) to want a robot in the house than those under 65. Older people were as familiar with tablets and smart speakers as younger people, but less likely to use smart phones. Some younger people suggested interacting with robot via their smart phone, and while not at home. Answers to similar questions about preferences for robot interaction varied according to position in the questionnaire. User-centred design of human–robot interfaces should include open questions to understand people’s preferences, should account for question wording and order in interpreting user preferences, and should include people of all age ranges to better understand interface use. Older people’s technology needs have differences and similarities to the younger people who are likely carrying out the research. Our sample of older people were more like people under 21 than those aged in between for preference of robot–human interaction, and more willing to have a robot in the home than younger people. Differences may come from a more home based lifestyle and difficulties with vision, hearing, or dexterity rather than lack of interest in technology.

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Availability of data and material

The datasets used and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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We thank Deborah Hubbard and residents at Wesley Court Plymouth, students and staff at the University of Plymouth who took part, and all collaborators on the MoveCare project for their comments on this project.


This study was partly funded by EU funding for the MoveCare Project University of Plymouth were funded by the MoveCare Project. Funding was provided by Horizon 2020 (Grant No. 732158).

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This sub project of MoveCare was designed by RJ, MB, MR. Data collection was carried out by MB, MR.

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Correspondence to Ray B. Jones.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All authors have approved the manuscript. Participants included in the photos have given consent for their use.

Ethics approval and consent to participate

We received ethical approval from the Faculty of Technology Ethical Committee (18/03/2017). All participants were given an information sheet, had the purpose explained verbally, signed a consent sheet, and were anonymous.

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Biswas, M., Romeo, M., Cangelosi, A. et al. Are older people any different from younger people in the way they want to interact with robots? Scenario based survey. J Multimodal User Interfaces 14, 61–72 (2020).

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