The EMPATHIC Research & Innovation project will research, innovate and validate new paradigms, laying the foundation for future generations of Personalised Virtual Coaches to help elderly people to live independently. The wellness coaching advice will promote healthy habits and behaviour, by challenging each user to transform their personal goals and needs into actions. The EMPATHIC Virtual Coach (EMPATHIC-VC) will engage the healthy-senior user to take care of potential chronic diseases, maintain a healthy diet, have adequate physical activity as well as encourage social engagement, thus contributing to the older adults’ ability to maintain a satisfying and independent lifestyle. The EMPATHIC-VC will motivate the user through a friendly virtual coach to reach pre-set benefits, whose achievement will be measured through project-defined metrics. Our ambition is to create a personal, friendly and familiar environment for the users, avoiding the threatening effects of unfamiliar new gadgets or an excessive focus on medical supervision. The project will look beyond the basic medical and physical needs of a person, to the link between body and emotional well-being. The EMPATHIC-VC will be capable of perceiving the emotional and social state of a person, in the learned context of the senior users’ expectations and requirements, and their personal history, and will respond adaptively to his/her needs.


To achieve these goals, this project will develop innovative multimodal face and speech analytics, adaptive spoken dialogue systems, Intelligent computational models and natural human-computer interfaces, resulting in an emotionally-expressive virtual coach, designed to help aging users and their carers. Building upon neuroscience research, the project will use unobtrusive remote technologies to extract physiological markers of emotional states in real-time. The EMPATHIC-VC will monitor facial cues and speech style that underpin the user’s basic neural function, and will formulate online adaptive responses, facilitating interaction through mimicking, in turn promoting empathy and support with the user.


To develop the proposed EMPATHIC-VC, a number of scientific and technological challenges need be addressed. The virtual coach has to listen to the user and correctly understand the information communicated by their face, speech and language, through non-intrusive technologies. It has to be capable of deriving the personal needs of the user from the history of the user-coach interaction, as well as identifying the user’s emotional status and concerns. It has to be able to implement high level healthy-aging and well-being plans, and implement an effective motivational model, through expressive multimodal dialogue tailored for each specific user. In order to maximise the acceptability, use and impact of the virtual coach, it will be designed to run on tablets, smartphones, PCs, laptops, or even on a large-screen TV according to user’s preferences.


To ensure an end-user driven design, EMPATHIC will involve senior users from the beginning and at each phase of the project, by considering their needs according to caregivers and professionals, by gathering initial data from them as well as their opinions regarding the technology to be developed, and by allowing them to use the personalised prototype from its first version to the final proof of concept. The proof-of-concept to be developed will take care of data privacy in terms of secure storage, management and transmissions for user protection according to EU and national regulations. These technologies will be demonstrated and validated in a series of clearly-defined realistic use cases representing different coaching goals and user profiles. A number of 200-250 seniors will be recruited in three European countries, Spain, Norway and France, representing different culture and lifestyle environments, resulting in a significant, representative sample of users involved the project.


EMPATHIC proposes multidisciplinary research and development, involving:
  • Geriatrician, Neuroscientist, Psychiatric, health and social work specialists, knowledgeable in age related conditions and the aims of a coaching program in maintaining independence, functional capacity, and monitoring physical, cognitive, mental and social well-being to implement the individual coaching goals;
  • Psychologist, Neuroscientist and Computer Science experts for detection and identification of the emotional status of the user;
  • Engineers and Computer Scientists in speech and language technologies, biometrics, image analysis, and machine learning. They will develop tools to detect emotional cues, model users’ emotional status, translate coaching plans into actions, user-adapt spoken dialogue and personalise talking agents;
  • Telecare services, a senior association and a hospital interested in testing and validating EMPATHIC;
  • Companies interested in providing and developing technology for the project and commercialising the products and derived services.
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