The National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health is providing a five-year grant to Vanderbilt University and Ohio State University’s College of Nursing to conduct research into the use of social assistance robots to encourage social interaction among elderly residents of long-term care facilities.

Two Ohio continuing care retirement communities—Ohio Living Westminster–Thurber in Columbus and Chapel Hill Community in Canal Fulton—are participating in an eight-week trial to determine whether the robots can facilitate social interaction in residents, with the aim of alleviating loneliness, apathy, and cognitive decline.

Two of the robots are humanoid, and a third is “animal-like,” and they’re “capable of autonomously detecting and meaningfully responding to older adults’ attention and behavior.” One robot can work with two residents at a time, prompting them to engage with each other by guiding them through various activities.