There’s a new assistant in town, meet Polaris.

AUH Field Study



While we continue to work on developing the robot and designing the airport experience, we have also started investigating other use cases. One that we will be focusing on in the near future, is hospitals. That means we have a lot to learn about hospitals as a context for robots, and the user needs and behavior that exist in this context.

We have talked to the wayfinding committees of the hospitals in Aalborg and Aarhus to learn more about their experiences and challenges, and we have conducted field studies to
understand the problems visitors are facing and the tools and aids they use to overcome them.

Most recently, we visited Aarhus University Hospital(AUH). Our first challenge here was to find the right parking area and entrance, which is pivotal in a hospital of this size. Once we found it, we started walking around the hospital and tried to find some destinations on our own, to better enable us to empathize with the visitors.
As soon as we entered the building, we were overwhelmed by the amount of wayfinding aids competing for our attention.

Finding our destination was cumbersome, but finding our way back was surprisingly easy, thanks to all the recognizable art pieces, furniture and other interior that is used as landmarks in the hospital. It is easy to see that a lot of time has gone into developing the wayfinding strategy and all the wayfinding aids that exist in the hospital. However, due to the complexity and size of the building, there is clearly a need for more personalized guidance. At the moment, wonderful volunteers from the Red Cross meet the visitors in the main entrances with a smile and point them in the right direction.

After our own wayfinding experience, we started observing and interviewing visitors to see how they approached wayfinding, and which aids they used. We also tried approaching some visitors in the entrance and asked them to think-aloud while they tried to find their destination. Some were very determined and had clearly been there before, while others needed assistance. A typical first-time visitor enters the door, stops to gaze at the signs hanging from the ceiling and then finds their phone or a piece of paper (depending on their age) to remember what they are searching for. After a few confused moments, they approach the volunteers, who are patiently waiting for them, and ask them for help. The volunteer looks at the visitor’s phone or note and then uses either the signs or interactive screens to point the visitor in the right direction. In some cases, the volunteer follows them all the way to their destination or calls a porter to drive them there. They might also send the visitors to the reception, for inquiries where they need to look up information about the visitors.

We observed some relatively complex social norms, such as visitors disregarding regular queuing behavior to allow someone in pain to get their spot in an elevator. Of course, we need to find a way to make the robot mimic this empathic and socially acceptable behavior.

We also interviewed some staff members and some of the volunteers to learn more about the needs that they experience through their encounters with the visitors.

Now we are trying to organize all our learnings, with the aim of implementing them in the design of the robot. We use the insights from this field study as a foundation for our user stories, to ensure that all functionality adds value to the user.

Next step will be to use our insights about the context and potential users to design a functional prototype and to apply our robot personality framework. After that, we will go back to AUH with the robot and use a Wizard of Oz approach to validate the concept and gather some feedback about how people use it and how it affects their visit at the hospital.