Autom: A Robotic Weight Loss Coach

Photo © Sam Ogden 2007

Recent News: Autom at AARP Life@50+Expo

Autom was shown at the AARP Life@50+ national event and expo on 6-8 September, 2007, in Boston with about 27,000 people attending. During the three days of the expo, around 600 people had a chance to interact with Autom and about 150 people had their photo taken with the robot. It was a great chance to get feedback from a lot of different potential users of this kind of system in a few days.

More information on the event and photos from it are at my other site.

About the project

We have built a sociable robot system to assist people who are trying to lose or maintain weight. The system addresses a main shortcoming of existing weight loss programs, that of long-term adherence. Combining what we have learned during several years of research in human-robot interaction with current weight loss and weight management techniques, we have constructed a system that allows people to manage weight-related data and interact with a robotic coach.

A relationship model has been developed to appropriately create and manage the relationship between the coach and the user. Based on what is known about human relationships, human-robot interaction, and relationships with agents, the model allows the user's interactions with the coach to evolve over time, allowing the system to establish a pattern of engagement that attempts to keep the user using the system, and therefore maintaining their weight loss and maintenance behaviors, longer than they otherwise would.

Much like a human coach, the robotic coach attempts to become a part of the person's social support network. By integrating into this existing network, this system can take advantage of the known benefits of social support in weight loss and weight maintenance. By helping a user keep track of data relevant to their weight loss program, the user has the option of sharing the data with family, friends, or caregivers as a way to gain their support in encouraging progress.

The coach offers feedback on recent behavior and makes recommendations for near-term behavior. The feedback is based on comparing recent diet-related behavior, such as calories consumed and exercise performed, with goals set by the user. Recommendations come from general information on diet, nutrition, and exercise and are tailored to the individual based on the current stage of the relationship between the coach and the user.

The system maintains a database that keeps track of interactions with the user, information gathered from the user, and goals set by the user. This is used in the relationship model and for the feedback to determine how each interaction should occur.

The system consists of an interactive robot coach and a computer that maintains the necessary information. Earlier work we conducted in human-robot interaction has shown that a robot can be more engaging than a character on the screen, which leads to our using a physical robot in this system rather than an agent on a PDA, phone, or computer. Other pieces of the system will allow automation and simplification of the system for users.

Recent photos of construction

Photos of the robot construction process can be found here.