It refers to a unique area of robotics that exists in an intersection between assistive robots (those that focus on aiding human users through interactions with robots), and socially interactive or intelligent robots, (which focus on socially engaging human users through interactions with robots.
It combines robotics, engineering, medicine, communication, and psychology and currently has a wide range of real and potential applications.
This area has expanded into several mental healthcare applications, having served as companion, coach and play partner with growing literature highlighting its variety of clinically relevant functions that they can serve, including therapeutic play partner.
It isn’t promised as a replacement for trained professionals nor a panacea for all mental healthcare needs.
The essential features of SAR is the social component of the interaction as means of helping a human user.
Examples of this being; interaction through coaching, education and motivation.).
These robots can also be used to address a wide range of clinical concerns, including adults with mood and anxiety disorders and children with disruptive behavior problems as well as individuals who don’t meet the criteria for diagnosis but experience mental health concerns like high levels of stress.
SAR has been used in clinical roles, including stroke rehabilitation, recovery for cardiac patients, weight-loss, exercise programs, and patient education.
They’ll provide people with education and feedback, coach them through tasks, assist with treatment compliance, and monitor treatment progress.
Taking a variety of forms from one-of-a kind robots developed in specialized university labs to commercially available toys that are adapted and doctored to create more specialized systems.
Because of this, the cost and availability of these robots vary considerably, depending on the specific robotic from that is used, with a lab made one costing in the tens of thousands and requiring significant time produce.
SARs face significant demands; it must perceive its environment, interact with human users, display appropriate social cues, and effectively communicate with human users. Creating robots of this caliber is a challenging task. And many of the robots within SAR are either partially or fully under human control with the long term goal to create ones that operate autonomously without any type of human operator controlling the interaction.
With the given growth in this area, it is a critical moment for individuals in the mental healthcare community to become engaged in this research to help steer it toward the most pressing clinical needs.
But the existing SAR work and its potential for expanded use isn’t widely familiar to those in the mental health field who might be of use and meaningfully inform the next mental health applications of SAR.