Smart companion robotic toys for adolescent mental health

Collaborators: Prof Marina Jirotka (Oxford), Prof Ellen Townsend (Nottingham)

The unique feature of the smart toy intervention platform is that the user-robot interaction aims to facilitate `automatic' downregulation of emotion in situ; one that is fully led by the young person, and does not require any specific training or cognitive effort. This makes it a potentially useful, but so far unexplored component in mental health treatments for youth, where emotion regulation problems are often significant and where empowering young people to develop their own competencies beyond in-person treatment sessions is crucial.

To start exploring this area, we will send Smart toys to 20-30 young people (aged 16-24), some of whom might have had lived experience with mental health challenges. We will interview each participant two and six weeks after they receive the toy to develop an initial understanding of how youth react to the Smart Toy prototype, how they use it (if at all), and what potential risks and benefits they see as arising from such an intervention. The aim is to explore the feasibility and acceptability of using the intervention with this particular target group and collect rich qualitative data which will generate design insights into plausible use cases. In addition, we are interviewing 15-20 clinicians across UK and US (predominantly working on self-harm interventions, or with fostered / looked-after children); as well as 10-15 Responsible innovation/ethics experts.

In doing so, we aim to understand how Smart Toys (and other similar experiential interventions) could become incorporated into mental health treatment, as well as to anticipate the potential consequences—both positive and negative—of embedding such interactive technologies into a range of clinical therapies.

Petr Slovak
Petr Slovak
Lecturer (Assistant Prof) in Human Computer Interaction

My research is focused on envisioning, designing, and evaluating new technology-enabled interventions for children and youth, targetting core protective factors underpinning personal wellbeing (such as emotion regulation, parenting).