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A Robotic Mediator to Preserve Dignity in Stigmatizing Patient-Caregiver Relationships

Patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD) experience challenges when interacting with caregivers due to their declining control over their musculature. In particular, early stage Parkinson’s disease is characterized by facial masking that reduces the ability for a caregiver to effectively comprehend the emotional state of a patient. To remedy these challenges, we hypothesize that a robot mediator can be used to assist in the relationship between PD patients and their caregivers, reducing the stigmatization that often occurs due to this loss of nonverbal communication. To overcome this stigmatization, providing therapeutic robots with an ethical architecture can potentially help to ensure that patients’ and caregivers’ dignity is maintained.

     Towards this goal of maintaining effective patient–caregiver relationships and preventing the loss of dignity, we have developed two approaches to address this problem that leverage our prior research in ethical architectures. First, we are studying the introduction of a robotic co-mediator to increase the communicative bandwidth in this relationship for fostering empathic response in the caregiver. This requires modeling moral emotions in the patient, such as shame and embarrassment, while looking for lack of congruence in the caregiver regarding the perception of the emotional state of the patient. A PD patient is liable to suffer indignity when there is a substantial difference between his experienced shame and the empathy shown by the caregiver. When this difference strays from acceptable norms, the robotic agent will act using subtle, nonverbal kinesic (body language) cues to drive the relationship towards acceptable social and medical treatment norms with the intent of preserving patient dignity. Second, we have developed an extension of our robotic ethical governor that enables intervention should acceptable behavioral bounds be exceeded by either the patient or the caregiver. Here, the approach to uphold PD patient dignity is through the use of an ethical robot that mediates patient shame when it recognizes norm violations in the patient-caregiver interaction by overt robotic action using kinesic and verbal intervention as required.      

     This research is funded by the National Science Foundation National Robotics Initiative under Grant #IIS 1317214.

  Date and Time




  • Herston, Queensland
  • Australia 4006
  • Building: Level 5, UQ Health Science Building
  • Co-sponsored by CSIRO
  • Registration closed


Ronald C. Arkin
Ronald C. Arkin of Georgia Tech


A Robotic Mediator to Preserve Dignity in Stigmatizing Patient-Caregiver Relationships


Ronald C. Arkin is Regents' Professor and Director of the Mobile Robot Laboratory in the College of Computing at Georgia Tech and is the Director of the Mobile Robot Laboratory. He served as STINT visiting Professor at KTH in Stockholm, Sabbatical Chair at the Sony IDL in Tokyo, in the Robotics and AI Group at LAAS/CNRS in Toulouse and is currently on leave in Brisbane, first at QUT and now at CSIRO. Dr. Arkin's research interests include behavior-based control and action-oriented perception for mobile robots and UAVs, deliberative/reactive architectures, robot survivability, multiagent robotics, biorobotics, human-robot interaction, machine deception, robot ethics, and learning in autonomous systems. His books include Behavior-Based Robotics, Robot Colonies, and Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots. He has provided expert testimony to the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Pentagon and others on Autonomous Systems Technology. Prof. Arkin served on the Board of Governors of the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology, the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (RAS) AdCom, and is a founding co-chair of IEEE RAS Technical Committee on Robot Ethics. He is a Distinguished Lecturer for the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology and a Fellow of the IEEE.