Hello, the year is 2017 and a Queensland University researcher is conducting the first Australian study into the positive influence robots can have on your eating habits.
Weight loss robots are going to be a thing, people – and you can help make it happen.
Nicole Robinson is a PhD student with QUT’s Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation and Faculty of Health and shares her office with two adorable, knee-high NAO robots.
They will play a central role in her research and will be programmed to deliver a conversation-like session with Brisbane participants who are aged 18 years of age and over and currently snack on food and drinks high in sugar and fat.
“I am very interested in how creative and innovative technologies, including robotics, can be used to bring about behaviour change,” Robinson said. “If robots can build our cars and assist surgeons then why not use them to change human behaviour for the better?”
Robinson’s study will investigate whether a social robot can be used as a tool to encourage health behaviour change by helping to decrease high sugar and fat intake, and see whether it has an effect on the weight of participants.
The NAO robots, known as Andy and Rob, will deliver an intervention similar to motivational interviewing that includes the use of imagery to help increase motivation.
“The robots are not designed to make people feel bad about their snack food choices,” Robinson points out. “Instead, they ask you questions about what you would like to do, talk about what goal would work best for you, and ways to achieve them.”
They will stand on the desk, use animated gestures, and talk to people in a gentle child-like voice.
“Talking to another person face-to-face about your diet can be a little intimidating for some people,” says Robinson. “Robots are non-judgmental and we want to see if people feel like they can talk more freely without fear of judgement.”
Robinson makes it clear – the robots are not designed to take the place of healthcare professionals.
“Their role is to be an extra health tool that can provide routine, low-cost and consistent treatment for healthcare professionals, so healthcare professionals can focus on more intensive aspects of their work,” Robinson says.
Ms Robinson is particularly seeking people who are 18 years of age and older who currently snack on food and drinks high in fat and sugar most days, and who want to reduce their snack intake. It’s also important that they haven’t been diagnosed with an eating disorder.
Ms Robinson travelled to England earlier this year to visit QUT’s adjunct research team at Plymouth University to learn more about their world-leading project using NAO robots to encourage people to be more active.
“I went to the UK in April and May to learn more about NAO robot programming and I have come back home to implement a similar program in Australia but with a focus on eating rather than exercising,” she said.
Participants in the Brisbane-based QUT study will be asked to do an online screening process to see whether they can take part, and then do three online surveys – one at the start, a second at four weeks and a third one at eight weeks.
Those who sign up for the study will also be asked to attend two one-hour sessions with the NAO robot at QUT’s Kelvin Grove campus or at South Brisbane. During the study, people will also be asked to watch a video session delivered by the robot to help them stay on track. At the end of the final session, we will also ask people about their experience with the program and the robot.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, close to two-thirds of Australians aged over 18 are overweight or obese, with more than one quarter of Australian adults considered obese.
“Such alarming statistics only tell part of the picture as being overweight can lead to a host of related health problems so any methods we can adopt to have a positive impact of weight should be considered,” Ms Robinson said.
Keen to help out? Call 07 3069 7533 or email [email protected]