Testbed for cutting-edge health technology welcomes world’s most advanced social robot

A robot named Stevie, cover star of Time magazine this month, is making his first visit to the UK to be tested by experts in health technology in the South West.

Stevie was designed and built by a team from Trinity College Dublin, before being sent to the United States to spend time at a retirement community in Washington D.C. His creators describe Stevie as “the world's most advanced social robot”, and as well as appearing on the magazine’s cover, he has recently been named among Time’s 100 best inventions of 2019.

Now back on this side of the Atlantic, Stevie has been placed into the care of experts from the University of Plymouth’s Centre for Health Technology.

Stevie is being trialled at Reflections day centre in Camborne. During the two weeks Stevie is spending at Reflections, he will carry out a range of activities and tasks such as leading a game of bingo, as well as simply spending time with clients of the centre. Researchers will monitor his performance and gather feedback from staff; a key test will be whether Stevie can successfully keep people engaged. It is hoped Stevie’s presence will boost wellbeing and social interaction, while freeing up human staff to work with individuals needing more attention.

Researchers from two EU-funded projects in the Centre for Health Technology are involved with the Stevie trial. Professor Ray Jones leads the eHealth Productivity and Innovation in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (EPIC) project. EPIC researcher Lloyd Taylor has been working with the Stevie team to support the robot during his time in Cornwall, and EPIC has funded Olly Smith’s new start-up company, which will help with the evaluation. Gabriel Aguiar Noury, researcher on the AGE’IN project, hosted Stevie in a Living Lab (a space for companies to test products) at the University for initial fine-tuning.

Thanks to EPIC and its close relationship with Kernow Health CIC, which represents all the county’s GP practices, care homes across the county and NHS services, health and care professionals and service user groups, Cornwall is gaining a reputation as the go-to place to trial new health technology. Access to this ‘Testbed Cornwall’, a concept that is being actively promoted by Cornwall Trade & Investment, is one factor that made sending Stevie to the South West an easy decision, according to Dr Conor McGinn, Assistant Professor at Trinity College Dublin, who leads the Stevie team of developers.

Dr McGinn said:

“This pilot is the start of an exciting new relationship with the University of Plymouth. Two things particularly excite me: a chance to link up with Plymouth in the field of robotics, and the potential to test Stevie in Plymouth and Cornwall for his very first UK pilot.”

He continued:

“The aim with Stevie was to create something that empowers people to use it, whether that is service users or patients. We want people to like Stevie, and so he is deliberately not intimidating and non-judgmental. People have a very subtle ability to pick up social clues, so he has to be really finely tuned. We haven’t had anyone who hates him yet, although some take longer than others to get used to him.

“Some older people actually find it easier to open up and talk to a robot than a person. Running a game of bingo might seem frivolous, but if he can increase happiness and reduce loneliness, both of which have significant health implications, Stevie will be proving his value.”

Professor Jones said:

It is an honour to have hosted Stevie at the University and to work with him in a care setting, and it shows the idea of ‘Testbed Cornwall’ already has the clout to attract world-leading technology.

“However, Conor and his team are only one of the many we are helping to test ideas, products and technology in Cornwall. EPIC aims to develop and use eHealth – things like websites and apps as well as robots – to improve health and wellbeing in Cornwall. In addition, we want to create highly skilled jobs in Cornwall to boost the economy.”

Age Independently (AGE'IN) is an Interreg 2 Seas project funded by the European Regional Development Fund. Partners from France, Belgium, Netherlands, and the UK develop actions so that older people can improve their quality of life and stay at home longer, thanks to housing and public space adaptation, social isolation prevention, and technology development.

Centre for Health Technology

Bringing together digital health and health technology expertise from across the University to drive the development, evaluation and implementation of innovative technologies, products, services and approaches to transform health and social care.

Find out more about our Centre for Health Technology

The Centre for Health Technology’s interdisciplinary, cross-sector collaboration and partnership working with people and organisations locally, nationally and internationally is essential to our ability to develop and apply novel technologies and health technology-enabled approaches for patient and public benefit.

We collaborate closely with NHS, industry, health and social care organisations, charities, patient groups and other universities across the South West region and beyond.

As part of this approach, and to enable greater connection and collaboration around digital health across the South West of England and beyond, we have facilitated the set-up and development of the South West Interdisciplinary Technology Consortium for Health and care (SWITCH) Ecosystem.

Why work with us?

The Centre for Health Technology facilitates access to the University of Plymouth’s wide range of health technology expertise and is your gateway to relevant health and care organisations and ‘end-users’ (clinicians, patients and public) on the ground throughout the South West region.

Such collaborative working is helping to facilitate everything from fundamental health technology research and innovation to co-design of new technology-enabled approaches empowering patients to manage their own health and care, from digital skills training of health professionals to the evaluation and implementation of innovative digital solutions at institutional and regional/national level.

eHealth Productivity and Innovation in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (EPIC)

A collaborative, three-year project, EPIC helps grow eHealth businesses and improve health, wellbeing and enhance care quality. Funded by a £2.7 million grant from the European Regional Development (ERDF) and the South West Academic Health Science Network (AHSN), EPIC has established an eHealth ecosystem that connects key sectors in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly with research expertise at the University, led by Dr Arunangsu Chatterjee and Professor Ray Jones. The project enables new technological innovations to be created and adopted and so far has successfully awarded 42 grants to businesses for this purpose. Working together with key partners, the project is helping to improve the quality of life and boost wellbeing.

Learn more about EPIC.

Faculty of Health: Medicine, Dentistry and Human Sciences

Exceptional clinical and academic learning, social engagement and research in medicine, dentistry, nursing, psychology and health professions

#FirstChoiceForHealth

Discover more