With rising elderly populations worldwide and workforce constraints, there has been much research and development into the use of robots and robotics for elderly care. As seniors age, many prefer the option of living at home, and robots are showing good potential in playing a critical role. How much care can a robot provide? Machines watch, wait, and even call for human help. Robots can carry more body weight, and thus aid in helping seniors who have fallen or who are disabled.
The field of robotics for elderly care has grown exponentially as a result of increasing demand, investments, and successful practical and therapeutic applications being developed. Furthermore, robots are getting more intelligent than ever as new artificial intelligence (AI) applications continue to develop. Eventually, senior care and monitoring robotics technologies will enhance and improve on the capabilities of medical alert systems, perhaps morphing into a new product category.
Japan created the first assistive robots. These inventions started with wide machines that analyze and monitor life-signs. There are robots that may soon carry a patient from a wheelchair to the bed. Japan also had the first humanoid robots. Designed with arms and legs, they can walk around and engage in intelligent chitchat. These short conversations may be the start of observations and perhaps simple diagnosis.
Disability care is not too far behind. Rehabilitation robots provide stimuli for mental and physical recuperation. With stronger arms and legs, the robot can easily hold you up during simple rehabilitation treatments. These may even provide more consistent feedback to a patient. It may even improve speed-to-treatment in the absence of a therapist.
Therapeutic robots provide sustained soothing interactions with the elderly. These may deliver specific treatment regimen while improving quality of life. Robot pets draw strong emotional motivation to care and create conversations. Some elderly find these enough to enliven each day. You need not be sick to get a therapeutic pet either.
What’s Happening Now
A variety of robots for care and caregiving are soon to be for everybody:
RoboCoaches lead exercise routines for the elderly in Singapore. It has a smiling flat screen and a second larger display for the next steps to the exercise.
Robear can lift a patient off his bed and into a wheelchair. It will prevent thousands of caregiver lifting injuries.
Paro the therapeutic, white, harp seal responds to a new name and turns to ‘look’ at a greeting or praise. It learns from the rubbing and patting that it gets, and creates a custom set of ‘behaviors’.
Companion Cat and Pup from Hasbro offers life-like purring and responsive barking. It is easy to carry or sit on your lap with its small frame and lightweight design. It lets the elderly care for a pet where live-animals are actual risks.
Future Of Robots
How to make the robot more intuitive is the next step forward. Research is turning to drones and virtual reality. These are integrations that will allow the robot to not only monitor life signs but also use these signals as behavior markers. Suggesting more effective daily activities can be a start. Scheduling these against real-time health status becomes more realistic.
Eventually, the use of robots and/or robotics technologies will enhance and expand on monitored medical alert systems of today. For example, an assistive home robot could be programmed to monitor the activity routines of a senior and send out signals to caregivers or family members if the senior is deviating from their usual routines. A senior who has fallen could receive assistance in getting up, putting them at ease and connecting them to a doctor or nurse before someone can arrive in person to help.
There is independence in mobility. Driver-assistance is an on-going program aimed at restoring this ability to travel safely. The elderly may see the sites with just a few words to a self-driving car.
Artificial intelligence is just around the corner and the first to benefit may just be the elderly and disabled. Making machines that think, work, and even predict future needs seems inevitable. Batteries may no longer be the limitation either as more alternative materials emerge. Machines will not replace human touch but they can help enormously. They have the potential to save lives, just like medical alert systems have done for the past decades.
Top Image credit: Pepper Robot by Softbank of Japan