Robot carers – trend or reality?

​​​When we think about robots it is often as mechanical, emotionless machines but things are changing. They are the carers of the future.

Introducing MiRo, which looks like a doe-eyed mix of rabbit/dog and what its inventors have labelled a ‘bioMimetic robot’ (a fancy term for the imitation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems). And there are high hopes that combined with other telecare and household security solutions, a MiRo, is the future of elderly care.

MiRo’s designer Sebastien Conran tells The Guardian how the robot would react in the event of a fall saying: “It talks to you and then it will send a signal to the hub saying there seems to be a problem. The hub will then broadcast on the home speaker, asking again if you’re all right, and telling you to slap your wrist.”

If the patient does not answer you slap your wrist and the process will stop but will be logged. If you don’t slap your wrist it will directly contact a carer, who can monitor your heart rate and body temperature, and rewind video footage of your life using the cameras in the home to see what happened. So when the ambulance gets there, they’ll have a better understanding of the patient’s needs.

While this might all sound Orwellian, there is evidence that the cute animal face of MiRo could help with patient acceptance. This coupled with the increasing connectivity of telecare due to improving internet speeds and access to technology, means that there are huge advances in remote care on the horizon. Healthcare is thought to be one of the sectors with most to gain from 5G – the fifth-generation mobile wireless standard, which is expected to be 12 times faster than 4G.

For example, The Wall Street Journal has reported on how telemedicine means that Doctors Without Borders are able to field lifesaving questions up to 10 times a day from its physicians in Niger, South Sudan and elsewhere to its network of 280 experts around the world, and back again via the Internet. Web companies such as Teladoc, Doctor on Demand and American Well are expected to host some 1.2 million such virtual doctor visits this year, up 20% from last year, according to the American Telemedicine Association.

The dilemma of human-based care is particularly a problem in Japan which has an increasingly elderly population and faces a shortage of one million caregivers by 2025. As you’d expect from the technologically advanced nation to address the issue, Japanese companies are leading the development of what they have dubbed ‘carebots’. The global bank Merrill Lynch argues this is going to be big business and that the global personal robot market, which includes carebots, could reach $17.4 billion by 2020. For instance, Japanese manufacturer Honda has been working on developing its Asimo humanoid-style robot since the 1980s, which could help the elderly with daily tasks by getting them food or turning off lights.

And it is not just Japan that has a need for specialist care and carers. Research by the Alzheimer’s Society has discovered that 400,000 people living with dementia in England are relying on homecare workers to help them wash, get dressed, eat and take their medication. But the research results also highlighted a complete lack of dementia training for homecare workers. People affected told the charity about being left terrified at home in soiled clothes, surviving without hot meals and even missing vital medication. Could automation or robotics help with this challenge and after research costs offer an alternative?

Back to MiRo and why developers over here think that an animal-style robot could be the way forward for carers. Putting it simply, we care for animals, and research has already proved that looking after real life pets could be beneficial for the elderly.

But whatever the shape (human or animal) it is becoming clear that the future for carers is increasingly robotic. And it starts with the communications and innovation which started with and has been developed by telecare.

If you’d like to find out how telehealthcare solutions may be able to help you or a loved one stay safe, please contact our team.