Emotionally-Aware Robots May Soon Be Caring for Grandma and Grandpa

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The well-being and care of the beloved seniors in your life is about to take a lightspeed leap into the future. Researchers are currently developing culturally-aware robots to assist older people in care homes, hospitals and assisted living facilities.

Scientists led by teams from Middlesex University and the University of Bedfordshire have been awarded $2.5 million to help develop this specific area of the Pepper Robots artificial intelligence over the next three years. The humanoid robots will be tested in the UK at the Advinia Healthcare care homes in the final year of the project. The program is being funded by the European Union (EU) and the Japanese government.

Pepper Robot.

Pepper Robots, which are also personal robots, will be able to be pre-programmed to suit the specific needs of the person they assist. While they will not be replacing human caregivers, scientists are hoping that these robots will soon be able to help seniors with everyday tasks like taking medication and providing companionship.

“As people live longer, health systems are put under increasing pressure,” Transcultural Nursing expert and professor Irena Papadopoulos told the BBC. “Assistive, intelligent robots for older people could relieve pressures in hospitals and care homes as well as improving care delivery at home and promoting independent living for the elderly. It is not a question of replacing human support but enhancing and complementing existing care.”

The first wave of the Pepper Robot senior support will be launched in care homes and living facilities, but experts hope that the advent of older people having personalized bot assistance in their houses could be a viable option in the future.

 

“We are starting with care homes and with people who are semi-independent living in sheltered housing,” said Papadopoulos. But we do believe that in the future the robots would become acceptable for people to have in their own homes.”

Manufactured by Softbank Robotics, Pepper Robots have been in thousands of Japanese homes for the past two years. Consumers can pay a base price of $1,600 dollars for the bot plus an additional $200 dollars for monthly insurance and data fees. And this year, Japan’s Meiji Yasuda Life Insurance company will assign 100 Pepper Robots to assist on the sales floor of 80 branches of its locations. The robot has even started making its way across Europe. In June of 2016, Pepper Robots were employed at two hospitals in Belgium.

Related: A Lesson on Elder Care From Van Halen

Pepper Robot. Credit: Franklin Heijnen/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Engineers at Softbank Robotics say the Pepper Robots are innovative because they were designed for companionship and have the ability to perceive emotions. The bots also move in a natural, intuitive way and can be personalized to interact with humans. The robot’s ability to evolve with its owner and identify their emotions makes it a natural and perfect fit for seniors and their needs.

Softbank Robotics’ Executive Chairman, Dr. Sanjeev Kanoria, said that Pepper Robots can reinvent how seniors are cared for because they provide an excellent support care tool for elder care workers. The bots will help provide all seniors with a sense of independence regardless of their living environment.

Robots can support care workers by helping to reduce errors in medication and assisting them with advanced technology,” says Kanoria, “to help vulnerable residents live safer, independent lives in care homes and at home.”

Related: This New Robotic Hand Has a Human Touch

Ronke Idowu Reeves
Ronke Idowu Reeves is a writer and journalist who hails from Brooklyn, NY. Her news and entertainment stories have appeared on WABC-TV-New York, Fox News Channel, VH1, BET.com plus in Sundance Film Festival’s Sundance Daily Insider and People Magazine.