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kv Blogs
27 June 2017

Could Robotics Transform End-of-Life Care?

From the development of pizza-making robots to the creation of house-cleaning robotic dogs, we are constantly expanding the capabilities and uses of robots. Soon, robots may be adding another profession to their repertoire—elderly carer. Several different teams have been working on designing robots and robotic technology to provide care for older people. Here, we explore how new robots could transform end-of-life care, and the possible consequences of pairing robots and the elderly.

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore are developing a humanoid robot dubbed Nadine, and they aim to one day use Nadine to provide companionship and emotional support for people with dementia. Nadine caters to elderly people who simply need a friend and a listening ear, and her developers hope that she can one day be used to improve the quality of life for people suffering from dementia.

In Houston, Texas, IBM is working on a robotic elderly carer of its own. Their creation is the Multi-Purpose Eldercare Robot Assistant, or Mera. Mera could be both a companion and a nurse for the home-bound elderly. With built-in cameras to recognise faces, the capacity to read vital signs and the ability to call for help, Mera is built to anticipate the needs of patients and analyse the surroundings to keep the elderly safe.

Robots could also provide care in nursing homes. The Care-o-bot, designed to help in German nursing homes, assists human nurses by serving beverages, entertaining the elderly residents and cleaning. It is designed for agility, with joints that give the robot dexterity and a large range of motion. The Care-o-bot is also equipped for interactivity. It has microphones, speakers and cameras to communicate and understand its environment.

The benefits of robotic assistance with elderly care are numerous. Robots could provide dedicated companionship to lonely patients or look after people with specialised attention and matchless precision—and that’s just a start.

But what are the drawbacks of robotic end-of-life care? One major downside is that robots could create more loneliness and isolation than they resolve. A robotic companion certainly cannot replace human interaction and personal care. Another shortcoming is that the elderly may feel uncomfortable with new robotic technology. While some elderly patients could learn how to live with a robot nurse, patients who need such care may not be in a state to accustom themselves to such an unfamiliar companion.
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Of course, many applications of robotics seem to have a downside—just think of all the news articles on robots taking human jobs. These what-ifs and possible obstacles should not inhibit innovation and forward-thinking, as long as we are conscious of issues that could arise. The determination and subsequent success of high net worth individuals, such as Google co-creator Larry Page or our own founder Tej Kohli, are evidence of the importance of positivity and perseverance when it comes to improving our world through technology.

Robots could greatly improve the quality of life of our elderly population. Through continued dedication to technological advancements, we can make the future of robotic nurses and companions a reality while giving the elderly population—our parents, grandparents and older friends—the respect and care they deserve.