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”
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.
Robots could ‘revolutionise’ care of older patients
“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”
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.