Human-robot interaction is now well enough understood to allow us to build useful sociable robot systems that can function outside of the laboratory. This is the first project to develop and deploy a sociable robot system to investigate long-term human-robot interaction in people's homes in the context of  helping people with their behavior change goals (see
research page). Specifically, the sociable robot system is designed assist people who are trying to lose or maintain weight. We selected this application domain because it supports a long-term study where the creation of such a system might make a practical difference. To develop this application, we collaborated with Dr. Caroline Apovian at The Nutrition and Weight Management Center at Boston Medical Center.

Overweight and obesity are currently significant problems in the United States. They are increasing and estimates of the cost to the US economy for obesity-related health problems range from US 75 to 125 billion dollars per year as of 2004. In the United States, the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 65% of the adult population is overweight or obese (31% obese and 34% overweight, calculated using the body mass index, or BMI). According to the World Health Organization, this is an international problem, with over 1 billion of the world's adult population overweight, with 300 million of these considered obese, and they state that almost all countries (high-income and low-income alike) are experiencing an "obesity epidemic". It is also known that of those who do lose weight, 90 to 95% are unable to keep the weight off long-term. The length of time looked at in studies of weight regain varies, but is commonly between six months and one year.

Obesity is a problem that is being addressed in many ways. Most current work relates to new pharmaceuticals, diets, bariatric surgery, or other treatment regimes. Some clinical research in the last decade has looked at new isnterventions that are focused on creating behavior change and leading to long-term weight loss. The design and study of novel and potentially more successful means to eff ect behavior change is a promising direction in recent bariatrics work. Some of these include internet-based interventions using either text- or character-based interfaces. 

Our earlier results in controlled Human-Robot Interaction studies have shown that  a robot can be seen as more credible and informative than a character on the screen. Hence, there is reason to believe that a robot may be a more e ffective mechanism for conveying the behavior change message. Results showing that a robot can be more engaging than an animated character lends itself to the possibility of creating a set of longitudinal interactions, or a relationship, that is longer-lasting than previous techniques and therefore also more likely to have the opportunity to create long-term behavior change.

The website for Cory Kidd's company,
Intuitive Automata Inc., is now live and will soon make a commercial version of the weight loss robot.
Cory Kidd, Designing for Long-Term Human-Robot Interaction and Application to Weight Loss. January 2008. Ph.D. Media Arts and Sciences, MIT.

C. Kidd and C. Breazeal (2008). “Robots at Home: Understanding Long-Term Human-Robot Interaction”. Proceedings of the 2008 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS 2008). Nice, France.