Project EMPATHIC aims to develop an empathic virtual coach which may promote good health in older people. The project involves both development and validation of the virtual coach.
What is a virtual coach? The virtual coach is presented as a face on a screen which the user may talk to and receive answers from. The coach will generate personalized answers and express empathy by adjusting its voice and facial expression to the user's statement. This relies on advanced technology in terms of algorithms that provide the coach with the ability to recognize language, extract semantic content, interpret the user's emotions based on gaze and facial expression, search the database for possible answers, select the most suitable answers, and generate speech and emotional expressions to match the user. Developing the necessary technology is one of the project's aims. It is also an aim that the coach should be adapted to older users (people over 65 years) and have a positive effect on the user's quality of life and health. In order to adapt the coach to the user group, the project will use field trials from an early point and in several rounds. Users in three countries (Norway, France and Spain) will test several prototypes and give feedback on the usability and the user experience. This feedback will directly impact the development of the coach. In order to evaluate the effect on the user's quality of life and health, a group of users will get to test the coach over a one year period.
A cross-disciplinary team from Norway, England, France, Spain, Italy, Belgium and Israel collaborate in the EMPATHIC project. With competence in geriatrics, neuroscience, psychiatry, psychology, health work, human-computer interaction and artificial intelligence, expertise and user involvement are combined to develop the virtual coach. The funding from NFR will strengthen the Norwegian participation in the project by enabling the employment of a user-as-researcher for the project, strengthen the competence in e-health and welfare technology and allow the establishment of national collaboration within the project.
The project started in late 2017 and is in the final test phase before the final evaluation phase. The second prototype has been completed, and user testing and mid-value testing have been carried out in Spain, France and Norway. Due to Covid-19, the project was extended by 6 months, and plans for laboratory testing had to be reversed. In the current phase, testing is performed at the users' homes via the user's own internet connection. Final testing (phase 3), analysis, publications and final documentation remain.
Hovedeffekten av prosjektet er læring. Prosjektet har gitt oss insyn i hvordan utvikling av metoder for empatisk kommunikasjon med hjemmebaserte pasienter, gir muligheter og begrensninger med kunstig intelligens og kommunikasjon via en virituell agent.
Prosjektet har ikke hatt direkte virkning på vår nåværende pasientbehandling, men vil påvirke fremtidige valg av virtuelle metoder for kommunikasjon med hjemmebaserte pasienter.
The EMPATHIC project is an interdisciplinary effort to develop an empathic, virtual coach, which through its ability to detect emotional state, understand language and generate personalized answers, will improve and prolong the independent years of healthy seniors. It overlaps with several of the goals and thematic priorities of the Norwegian Research Council’s BEDREHELSE program.
The project will develop innovative multimodal face and speech analytics, adaptive spoken dialogue systems, intelligent computational models and natural human-computing interfaces: These technologies will be integrated in EMPATHIC-VC, resulting in an emotionally-expressive virtual coach, designed to help aging users and their carers. The EMPATHIC-VC will formulate adaptive responses based on the user's emotional cues (facial cues, eye gaze, speech style), promoting empathy and support.
EMPATHIC will involve seniors users from the beginning of the project; we will gather initial date from this group, to optimise the technology. Furthermore we will include this group in the product testing, allowing them to use and give feedback on the EMPATHIC-VC from its prototype- to final- stage form. A number of 200-250 seniors will be recruited in Norway, Spain and France, assuring a significant, multicultural, representative sample of users involved in the project. Testing will occur in three stages, where the first two field trials are conducted at specific testing locations and will focus on optimising/adapting the technology. In the last field trial, users will test the technology at home for a prolonged period of time, and the effects of EMPATHIC-VC on senior users health and quality of life will be assessed. The health- and wellness plans, and the functions implemented in EMPATHIC-VC will be rely on an multidisciplinary research and development team including Geriatrician, Neuroscience, Psychiatric, Psychology, Health and Social work specialists.