Robot Personal Trainer Helps Coach Runners in Bristol

So most of us go or try to go to the gym regularly. While many can get good results on their own, some need a little help in the form of a personal trainer. If you are too self-conscious and would rather not be coached by another person, perhaps you can turn to artificial intelligence. Scientists have recently tested a personal trainer robot that coaches runners at the gym.

The robot was developed by experts from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory. The testing included 10 people who took exercise sessions with the robot in a gym at the University of the West of England in Bristol.

The robot used for the study was Pepper from Softbank Robotics. Pepper has been seen working everywhere from banks, hotels, restaurants, ice cream parlors and even funerals.

Robot Personal Trainer Learned From Human Fitness Instructors

Pepper was trained by a human fitness instructor on how to be a good coach. He learned the proper way to give encouragement and motivate a runner to help improve performance. During workouts, Pepper adjusted his coaching style based on a person’s fitness level, heart rate, personality, and mood.

“We wanted to test if we could transfer the intelligence of our fitness instructor, an expert with the knowhow to get the best out of clients, into a robot so it could become an effective personal coach,” said UWE human-robot interaction expert Katie Winkle.

During the study, participants interacted with two different versions of Pepper. One was pre-programmed giving standard instructions every 30 seconds based on the person’s performance. The other version had been given input from a UWE fitness instructor. The robot observed the fitness instructor interacting with the runners and replicated his or her behavior.

Robot Personal Trainer Pepper - YellRobot
credit: Bristol Robotics Laboratory

Pepper Coached Runners Through 5k Exercise Program

The group used in the study ranged from ages 20 to 60. They had three exercise sessions per week for three months. Pepper helped guide them through the NHS Couch to 5K exercise program.

As far as results go, the runners preferred working with Pepper and actually performed better when getting coached by the robot.

“As time wore on, the participants began to treat the robot as a companion and the fitness instructor saw the robot as a colleague. This is really promising when we think about how robots might be used in the workplace in the future to work alongside humans,” said Winkle.


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