Assistive robots for care

Featured article - 10 November 2020
Dr Alan Walker, Director at SysElek

Alan Walker, Director at SysElek

Back in 1977, George Lucas expanded our imagination of how robots might make our lives easier, or at least the lives of characters living in a galaxy far, far away! With R2-D2 carrying the plans of the Death Star from Leia to Luke to assist the Rebellion, or C-3P0 assisting his friends (or should that be its friends) with knowledge of more than seven million forms of communication, the concept was clear: robots were there to assist the organic beings.

Fast forward 43 years and, while Hollywood has been having fun with an array of robot characters and their personification, significant progress has been made on Assistive Robots in our galaxy, the most interesting of which is the potential for Assistive Robots in a care environment.

As we age, assistive robots will help to maintain independent living by carrying out assistive tasks to improve our quality of life, ranging from fetching belongings to performing checks, and even providing companionship. Soon, they could also help in the fight against COVID-19.

Socially Assistive Robots (SAR), such as Pepper, iPal and Stevie, reduce loneliness and cognitive decline by social interaction through Artificial Intelligence. While these are still at the stage of limited trials in care homes, the SAR market is forecast to grow rapidly to nearly £1bn globally by 2025.

Further opportunities exist in monitoring. Assistive robots could facilitate regular assessment of individuals’ care needs, assessments which might otherwise become less frequent with reductions in care staff numbers.

Further opportunities exist in monitoring. Assistive robots could facilitate regular assessment of individuals’ care needs, assessments which might otherwise become less frequent with reductions in care staff numbers.

However, we all have very different and evolving needs. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work if Assistive Robots are to gain widespread acceptance in care environments. Questions such as safety, regulation and certification will also need to be addressed.

As assistive robots will adapt to our individual capabilities and needs, so too will the roles of care staff adapt to the presence of Assistive Robots, and incorporation of these extra helpers into individuals’ care plans.

Developers need more guidance from the best experts: today’s care givers and care receivers. As part of new research together with Loughborough University, we are seeking everyone’s views on the future of assistive robots in the care environment.

The survey is anonymous, but feel free to add your contact details if you have broader interest in this field.

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