By Kal KaurIntroductionReferences
Human–robot interaction is always being fine-tuned by creating more advanced prototype humanoid models. With the rise in elderly care becoming a major factor to challenge future healthcare services, society is starting to become familiar with the idea of robots for elderly care. It is already public knowledge that in Japan, rise in the aging population has been evident for over a decade and efforts have and continue to try and introduce advanced humanoid robots that can assist in delivering care for the aging population.
Examples of robots being introduced for the purpose of care includes ASIMO and Twendy-One – both sophisticated to a degree that allows these systems to adapt to and hold objects or humans and are tactile enough to respond to physical contact with a human. One recent example of a prototype for lifting elderly patients with limited mobility is the intuitively operated Medirobot, a design collaboration between TaipeI Municipal Yan Ming and Pilotfish in Taipei and Munich. The device has been designed to move patients without the requirement of additional equipment (see video below).
Despite clear examples of robots that could one day be standard measures to care for the elderly, there is still the obstacle of tackling production costs where engineering of robot arms and legs is costly. Even if humanoid robots became cheaper to manufacture and operate, this change would not be obvious for the next five years until the products hit a larger market.
At present, care-giving services involve the use of a human care provider to help manage an elderly person’s medication regimen and their wellbeing. Having a robot attempt preparation of medication for an elderly person in its care will not be possible until such robots have been manipulated, fine-tuned and capable of performing a task that requires the utmost attention to detail.
It is quite obvious that one of the main advantages in using care-giving robots is the independence and flexibility that a dependent elderly person may feel and experience, which would lift the feeling of being a burden on another human being.
Though it may be one achievement in building a robot that is intuitive, tactile and advanced enough to mirror the actions and commands of a human, it is quite another challenge in encouraging the human to engage interaction with a machine. Dr. Alexander Libin from the Medstar Health Research Institute and also a Scientific Director of simulation research argues that there is the need for robot technology to better recognize verbal and non-verbal cues. This also demonstrates the need to address how to tune a human to adapt better to robots and to trust that a mechanical device will be reliable in providing adequate care. It has also been suggested by Dr. Alexander Libin that touch sensors may help create a system that is more comfortable for the elderly to interact with.
An additional challenge to design and engineering elderly care robots is the diversification that exists in the elderly population – it would not be ideal to create a standard robot system expected to adapt to a population of aging people with varying illnesses and disabilities. A future generation of robots need to address this issue of adapting to extremely different care conditions. Consider the differences in the type and functional ability in care-giving robots that operate in Japan compared to such technology in America - the Japanese engineers favour creation of robots that are more human like as they are keen to introduce a machine that, if perceived to be human will not alienate the one receiving the care.
Industrial robotic systems have become a success in the manufacturing industry; however, this type of environment requires a machine to be precise, accurate, and repetitive. In contrast, assistive robots for elderly care will need to be more flexible when introduced into an unstructured environment and so this in itself will impact the design of a caregiving robot. The current market for caregiving robots is not proving successful and this could be due to the low acceptance, a factor that needs to be addressed through education and practice before proceeding with large-scale production of these robots.
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- Meng Q and Lee M.H. Design Issues for Assistive Robotics for the Elderly. Advanced Engineering Informatics 2006 20(2):171–186.