Mobile Remote Presence for Older Adults

Jenay Beer from the Human Factors and Aging Laboratory at Georgia Tech interned with us this summer, exploring potential uses, benefits, concerns, and acceptance surrounding mobile remote presence systems for older adult users. We chose to focus on this audience as potential users because these technologies have the potential to aid in providing social support; potentially improving a one’s quality of life and helping to maintain independence.

This project was designed to answer a number of research questions:

  1. What are older adults’ views on what the system may be used for?
  2. What are older adults’ perceived benefits and concerns?
  3. Will older adults generally accept remote presence systems?

Jenay’s assessment focused on older adults interacting with the Texai. It was important that perspectives be based on actual experience as opposed to opinions elicited from people who merely imagine a remote presence “robot.” Twelve older adult volunteers worked with the Texai in two sessions. First, these individuals directly interacted with the system and conversed with a secondary researcher controlling the Texai. In another session, the volunteers were provided the opportunity to pilot the Texai themselves and communicate with the secondary researcher by controlling the system. Interviews with the volunteers followed each session.

There is a misconception that older adults will refuse to adopt new technology. In fact, the results from this study suggest the opposite. Overall, our volunteers were very positive toward the idea of using a Texai in their daily lives. In general, they identified many more benefits than concerns. These benefits were often related to maintaining one's independence. For example, the Texai video capabilities were considered more personal than a telephone. The Texai could potentially be used to go to events that would otherwise be difficult to attend (e.g., museums, live concerts, or sporting events). Additionally, the participants mentioned that they would like to use the Texai to contact friends and family, specifically their children and grandchildren.

Some overall concerns mentioned included the etiquette of refusing a call, and potential violation of privacy. The older adults recognized that a different set of social rules may apply to communicating through the Texai, in comparison to telephone communication.

Although older adults could see the general benefit of the Texai being used in healthcare applications (at a nursing home, for example), they also had concerns that the system could be misused or overused. In other words, they would like the Texai to be used as a healthcare supplement and not as a replacement for hands-on care.

Although the Texai are currently used in the workplace, this study provided a peek into this specific user group, older adults, who might benefit from using such mobile remote presence systems in the future.

It would not be surprising if these findings paralleled earlier research on another form of remote communication – the telephone. Could that technology be misused or overused? Would it replace face-to-face interaction or complement it? Would it be more readily adopted by specific demographics? Were older adults more averse to the introduction of the telephone than other age groups? Big questions deserve deeper answers, perhaps 424 pages worth. We’d encourage you to check out Claude S. Fischer’s America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940.


Excellent work Jenay!

Way to go!