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The Latest Elderly Care Robots

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The Latest Elderly Care Robots

Robots can help the elderly with everything from reminding them to take their medication to detecting falls. Come check out some studies about using bots for elder care!

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As demographics in most western countries shift ever older, the issue of how to effectively (and affordably) care for our aging society is a pressing one. I've written about this a number of times, with various teams testing the deployment of robots into care environments.

The latest of these is called Stevie and has been developed by a team from Trinity College Dublin. The humanoid(ish) robot is designed to make it easy for patients to interact with it, whether to remind patients to take their medication or to detect if they've had a fall.

The interactive screen also affords the option to conduct video conferencing, whether with relatives via Skype or potentially with doctors via a telemedicine platform. Stevie can even regulate things such as room temperature and lighting to help patients get a good night sleep.

Man and Machine

It may seem somewhat peculiar to deploy robots in a profession as inherently human as healthcare, but that is nonetheless what has been happening recently, with experiments underway from Britain to New Zealand.

Interestingly, these studies found that the robots were both welcomed by their patient and were rather useful. For instance, they'd provide valuable support to the patient to ensure medication was taken but also provide a degree of comradeship that is perhaps rather less expected.

A recent study found that senior citizens are quite happy to accept robots as helpers but are much more concerned about ceding too much control to them.

Key to this relationship was the mental model that the senior citizens had formed about robots. In other words, if they went into the relationship thinking positively, or negatively, about robots, then that had a big impact on how the relationship went.

"When interfaces are designed to be almost human-like in their autonomy, seniors may react to them with fear, skepticism, and other negative emotions," the researchers say. "But with those considerations in mind, there are actually several areas where older people would accept robot help."

A further sign of the developments being made in this field was provided by a recent paper that was published in Frontiers in Robotics and AI.

The researchers developed a robot that they hoped would be capable of performing many of the tasks currently required of nurses, and potentially even that of surgeons.

While the team is confident in the skills of their robot, they don't envisage a time where humans will play no part in healthcare. Instead, they believe robots will augment and complement the skills of human healthcare professionals.

"As a roboticist, I am convinced that robotic (co)workers and collaborators will definitely change the work market, but they won't steal job opportunities. They will just allow us to decrease workload and achieve better performances in several tasks, from medicine to industrial applications," the researchers say.

Where to Next?

While most of the examples highlighted above have come from university research labs, the industry is largely dominated by Asian tech companies such as Softbank and Qihan.

I met last year with the team behind Qihan's Sanbot, which the company brands as robotics as a service. The device comes with a range of sensors so that it can safely navigate its environs, as well as a number of tools to help communication.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, healthcare is one of the industries the Qihan team are targeting as they role out Sanbot across Europe, and the thing that potentially enables the device to stand out from the crowd is the open API that underpins Sanbot.

The team hopes that this will enable the functionality of the standard device to be expanded upon considerably, and there is certainly a tremendous amount of potential.

Suffice to say, however, the industry is still at a very early stage, but given that Asia has both an aging population and a higher willingness to function alongside robots, this particular trend is perhaps one that will first emerge there.

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robotics ,medical ,ai ,bot development

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