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Apr. 26, 2018


BGU researchers have demonstrated for the first time the feasibility of a robotic system that plays a game, specifically Tic Tac Toe, with rehabilitation patients to improve real life task performance.   

Designing a social robot to help rehabilitate a patient is a new field and requires much research and experimentation to determine the optimal conditions.  Their findings were published recently in Restor​​ative Neurology and Neuroscience

The interdisciplinary research team designed a game with a robotic arm to simulate 3D Functional Activities of Daily Living—actions people undertake daily, like drinking from a cup, that are often the focus of rehabilitation.


​“Playing a game of Tic Tac Toe with a set of cups (instead of X's and O's) is therefore one example of a game that can help rehabilitate the upper limb – people pick up and place many cups in the process of the game, and improve their performance on the task while enjoying the game," says Dr. Shelly Levy-Tzedek of the BGU Department of Physical Therapy and the Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience, and the study's senior author. 

To test whether it is important to have an actual physical robot interact with the users during the game, the researchers compared the participants' motivation to play with the robot vs. a set of computer-controlled LED lights.   

The system was tested on 62 healthy right-handed people from two age groups: 40 young adults around 25 years old (23 women and 17 men) and 22 older adults around 75 years old (10 women and 12 men). Both groups preferred the robotic system over the LED lights system. The older adults said it was more human-like, while the young adults reported the robot “was more interesting, fun and appealing." 

When asked which partner they would prefer to play two additional games with, both groups selected the robotic system over the lights. However, when asked to play 10 additional games, the older adults still preferred the robot, but the young group preferred to play against the LED lights system. 

“Some of the young adults complained that the robot moved too slowly, and therefore they preferred the quicker system when asked to play many more games," says Dr. Levy-Tzedek.  “That suggests the speed of the robot should be personalized to each participant." 

An unexpected finding was the priming of the human movement by the robotic movement. Both young and older adults moved significantly slower when they played with the slower robot, compared to when they played with the faster lighting system. 

The results indicate that people are willing to continue to interact with a robotic device in a social-like setting, and that embodiment plays an important role, which is a positive sign for the future of such systems. The researchers recommend testing their system on rehabilitating stroke victims, now that they have established its feasibility. 

The research was led by Dr. Danny Eizicovits, a BGU postdoctoral fellow co-advised by Dr. Shelly Levy-Tzedek of the BGU Department of Physical Therapy and the Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience, Prof. Yael Edan of the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management, and Prof. Iris Tabak of the Department of Education

The research was partially supported by BGU through the Helmsley Charitable Trust, the Agricultural, Biological and Cognitive Robotics Initiative, the Marcus Endowment Fund, and the Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut Chair in Manufacturing Engineering. Additional funding was provided by the Brandeis Leir Foundation, the Brandeis Bronfman Foundation, the Promobilia Foundation, the Borten Family Foundation grant, the Planning and Budgeting Committee I-CORE Program and The Israel Science Foundation (ISF) (1716/12) through the Learning in a Networked Society (LINKS) center and grants number (535/16 and 2166/16).

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