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Robots could ‘revolutionise’ care of older patients


Care for the elderly could be revolutionised through a ground-breaking international study to build culturally aware robots, according to nurse researchers involved with the scheme.

An international three-year research project is aiming to develop and evaluate the world’s first culturally aware robots designed to assisting in caring for older people.

“Assistive, intelligent robots for older people could relieve pressures in hospital and care homes”

Irena Papadopoulos

According to those behind the project, it represents the first time researchers have explored the possibility of developing culturally aware robots.

The research group, which included Middlesex University London and the University of Bedfordshire, will meet for the first time on 30-31 January 2017 to develop the project.

It will involve researchers with backgrounds including robotics, human-robot interaction, artificial Intelligence, transcultural nursing, and health technology evaluation.

Robotics company Softbank and Advinia Healthcare Limited care homes are also on board with the project, which is being jointly funded by the European Union and the Japanese government.

It will centre on expanding the capabilities of Softbank’s existing “Pepper” robot – a human-shaped robot originally designed to be a companion and capable of recognising and adapting to human emotions.

“Personal social robots are going to be the next big thing”

Amit Kumar Pandey

Under the project, the future capabilities of the robot will include providing health-related assistance such as reminding an individual to take their medication, do their physical exercise, or raise the alarm in emergencies.

It will also assist in performing everyday tasks – for example, to-do lists, keeping track of bills, suggesting menu plans – as well as providing entertainment, such as playing music, easy access to technology like the internet and video calls.

Irena Papadopoulos, professor of transcultural health and nursing at Middlesex University London, will be responsible for developing the concepts and guidelines needed for the robots to respond to the culture-specific needs and preferences of older people.

She said: “As people live longer health systems are put under increasing pressure. In the UK alone, 15,000 people are over 100 years of age and this figure will only increase.

Middlesex University London

Robots could ‘revolutionise’ care of older patients

Irena Papadopoulos

“Assistive, intelligent robots for older people could relieve pressures in hospital and care homes as well as improving care delivery at home and promoting independent living for the elderly,” she said. “It is not a question of replacing human support but enhancing and complementing existing care.

“In order for robots to be more acceptable to older people it is essential that they can be programmed to adapt to diverse backgrounds and this is where my expertise in transcultural nursing comes in,” she said. “Care robots that are culturally aware are likely to meet with greater acceptance from both the older people and their carers.

Describing the research project as “very exciting and innovative”, she said: “Robotics and artificial intelligence is changing all the time and it is essential that we maximise the opportunities they offer.”

Dr Chris Papadopoulos, principal lecturer in public health at Bedfordshire University, will lead the team testing and evaluating the robots’ impact on care home residents’ health and wellbeing.

He said: “The project is truly ground-breaking. Building culturally aware Pepper robots that can autonomously re-configure their interactions to match the culture, customs and etiquette of the person they’re caring, means that they are more likely to be accepted by elderly clients.

“The impact upon wellbeing we hope to observe includes boosting independence, reducing loneliness and ultimately improving quality of life,” he said. “This should also relieve the burden that carers often carry and relieve some of the pressure hospitals and care homes face.”

“Robots can support care workers by helping them to reduce errors in medication”

Sanjeev Kanoria

Amit Kumar Pandey, head principal scientist and principal investigator for the project at Softbank Robotics, said: “Personal social robots are going to be the next big thing in the history of robotics technology.

“We look forward to working with our partners on this project to develop culturally-aware robots that are suitable for supporting older people,” he added.

In the final year of the project, the robots will be tested at Advinia Healthcare care homes in the UK, as well as similar setting in Japan.

Dr Sanjeev Kanoria, executive chair of Advinia Healthcare, said the initiative could “revolutionise the care of the elderly by supporting hard working care workers”.

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


Readers' comments (10)

  • Robots for care? I hope I am away before I need one - the nhs is in meltdown as is the care sector - due to greed based care business models which have caused burnout and reduction in experienced nurses whilst thinking that an increasing elderly society equalled guaranteed market demand. Elderly care is extremely intensely demanding, physically and emotionally. What next - two tier care, where self funders get human carers and state funded get robots?

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  • Money spent on Robots instead of HUMANISTIC care??!! I agree with the previous comment and hope when I reach a frail, elderly state of being HUMAN, that a Robot is not assisting me out of bed and offering me care with a Robotic hand!! Whatever next will be proffered forward to alleviate the increasing demise in health care??!! Community outreach teams on Mars?

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  • Loneliness, especially in the elderly, where it is linked to illness and death, cannot be emphatically addressed with the robotic artificial intelligence sector. Empathy is a human trait and cannot be fully taught. Whilst I agree that a crisis is upon us in longterm care of the elderly, especially while less people wish to go into, far less stay, in the care sector - both patients and staff - I think quality of life and the human touch cannot be replicated. I applaud those who seek to address this deficit of immeasurable depth. However, I do wonder how a robot would recognise non verbal signs of distress in myself, utilise smell - a vital sense in a carer - or manage acute symptoms that may be as yet unprogrammed into the AI data brain`s hard drive..Adaptability is humane - will the robots have their interactions monitored and feedback given in supportive supervision sessions? And who will give the reflective sessions - another robot or a human, who will increasingly become depersonalised and cloned in his/her reactions to suit the robot world?

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  • Or will we see genetically modified and cloned Dolly the Sheep type carers of a human appearance, grown in a lab? We can then pass a photo of the devoted daughter to the manufacturers, who can supply a dearest daughter, wife, son, lookalike to care...I do agree we need to plan, and address this - but personally, I hope Dignitas has a branch near me by that time.

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  • I am afraid I must agree with 'Anonymous 30 January 2017 9:14pm, but I suspect the two tier system will comprise those under 70 and those over! If I am wrong why are just the elderly patients to be so 'treated' ?

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  • Unfortunately Carol, we live in an ageist society, which values people who pay taxes and are "young" - despite contributing all their working lives to the national insurance scheme, paying taxes for in some cases, 40 plus years. Once infirm, disabled, or ill (all three there can be subjectively debated - what is "disabled" varies from person to person), elderly people are viewed as a burden on the state. You just have to look at what staff ratio to patients are seen as legal levels for giving adequate "care" to see that their value in society depreciates with age.

    I think the government would do much to address the NHS deficits etc if it stopped reinforcing dependency models in the young - encouraging non work in those of a working age, and insisted that if state benefits are to be handed on a platter, then some form of proven training/education/college/voluntary work must be undertaken, while unemployed, to qualify for benefits, to upskill and lessen dependency learned behaviour. It would do much to improve the ethos of many, hopefully changing from "something for nothing, and I`m entitled to have 10 kids paid for by the state" to "I am responsible for my future"...I await the response to that!

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  • Nothing to compare with human intervention What are these people thinking. Isolating the elderly even more .Pay carers a decent wage get more nurses on board . Needy people require good human care and a little chat is often the answer to a lot of their problems .

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  • Yes, nothing compares with human intervention - the human touch, the empathic inner skill most have, the ability to instincively know when something is wrong, and when to use touch - or not to. I persoanlly would have the "can work I`m not working, why should I" brigade in college to upskill as carers and have them on work placements to assist our elderly, til the next generation has a more work based ethos, and assists our elderly - til they "get it for nothing" non workers are dare I say, blessed with a more socially responsible, work ethos....then in a way we might even recruit more into the care sector from people who never otherwose may have considered it and who in my experience, can often make great carers or nurses - people who doubted their abilities, who really appreciate their responsibilty and being believed in by their dependent charges. It`s just a thought....was that a pig I saw flying past the window? If I were lederly I would relish the chance to educate and motivate a young mind, to give that person a sense of purpose....What do others think?

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  • Oops, my typos above, of which there are a good few, are pretty bad - apologies to all - I type looking at my fingers, and forgot to check the finished article!!

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  • I have been working in robotics for nearly 4 decades and have written extensively about the dangers of using robots in care. I know the Pepper robot well and the claims being made are ridiculous. I agree with all of the previous comments that this is a really bad idea.

    There are plenty of assistive robots around that can help nurses by taking laundry away or helping to lift and wash patients. But Pepper does none of this and as far as companionship is concerned, I would rather cut my throat now that be left with it.

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