The UK's Care Robots Have the Potential to Revolutionize Its Care System
Sun, April 18, 2021

The UK's Care Robots Have the Potential to Revolutionize Its Care System

Care robots are prevalent in places with slowing birth rates. / Photo by: willyambradberry via 123rf

 

As robots become more advanced and capable of interacting physically and verbally with humans, more possible applications of this technology have been introduced, according to Luke Dormehl of Digital Trends, an independent premium technology publication. For instance, robots can now take care of the elderly, including those suffering from neurological diseases such as dementia. 

Care robots are prevalent in places with slowing birth rates. One notable example is Japan. The country is known for its breakthroughs in robotics research and acceptance. However, it does not have an adequate supply of young people to care for its elderly. Another would be the UK. While the concept of care robots may sound science-fiction-esque, this technology is a promising innovation in the caregiving sector. 

Care Robots Could Revolutionize the UK’s Care System

On October 26, the British government invested £34 million to develop robots capable of making caring responsibilities easier and providing support for elderly Britons, as stated in the official website of the government of the UK. By 2040, one in seven people in the UK are expected to be over 75-years-old. In that regard, the government believed that care robots could provide the country’s adult social care sector with more assistance for people who need it most. 

Moreover, the government also launched the biggest research program dedicated to making autonomous systems safe and trustworthy for public use. The investment would be used to create robots to fulfill a myriad of tasks such as assisting an elderly person up after a fall and raising the alarm, delivering food, and making sure the individual take their medication at the right time. 

Autonomous systems are built in various industries to solve problems. However, developers need to take safety into account while developing autonomous systems. Rules must be established to enable them to make effective decisions. These systems should also keep valuable information and data safe. 

The UK’s program will soon incorporate their research into the design such as ensuring the protection of robots against cyberattacks. Or demonstrating principles like fairness, respect, and equality. These traits will allow them to be deployed in care homes and hospitals. Further, the program will provide policymakers, developers, and regulators “access to world leading experts,” which will also include the latest information and guidelines on this technology. 

In the healthcare sector, care robots could work hand-in-hand with professionals to assist and augment their work, as well as to ease pressure. Science Minister Chris Skidmore stated, “As our society ages, most of us will have to care for a loved one, whether it’s a grandparent or a parent or a partner.” It’s important to meet the needs of the country’s aging population. Through the research program, the UK will be able to bolster its position as a “global science superpower.” 

CHIRON

The government previously invested in a Briston-based project that aimed to develop a prototype of a robot called CHIRON. It was designed to support older adults with mobility and other impairments associated with aging. Eventually, the robot could help the elderly with anything such as bringing a drink or a tray of food or helping them to their feet from their chair. 

The project’s latest phase in the Bristol Robotics Laboratory will involve research on ensuring that the robots will be trustworthy and safe for use. Praminda Caleb-Solly, a Professor of Assistive Robotics from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, explained that the elderly can maintain their independence, as “Assistive robots can provide essential support for those who need help carrying out everyday tasks.” Caleb-Solly also emphasized to need to minimize risks associated with the robots so people can trust them.  

Given the UK's Care Robots, Should We Worry About Them? 

It’s understandable to worry about handing the role of a caregiver to a robot or an AI, Dormehl noted. We are told that these technologies will carry out dull, dirty, and dangerous jobs. Hopefully, none of these are applicable to caring for the elderly. There are other uses of this technology in the caregiving sector. 

For example, robots could act as a support system for caregivers, as well as the person being cared for. Robots could also help caregivers accomplish any physical tasks, so they can pool more energy and time with the people they are looking after. These technologies could cater to the mental health needs of caregivers, who may be struggling to take care of their loved ones with dementia. 

 

Robots could act as a support system for caregivers, as well as the person being cared for. / Photo by: pasiphae via 123rf

 

Laurel Riek, who is an Associate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of California San Diego, explained, “Caregivers themselves have a high rate of physical, cognitive, and mental health issues at rates much higher than their age-matched cohorts.” Denying the use of technology in this sector is shortsighted, as the best partnerships are forged between a human or a robot/AI. In Dormehl’s perspective, deciding not to deploy robots in caregiving is like deciding not to have a robot tell you that you’re dying. 

Care robots are helpful in taking care of the elderly in countries with aging populations like in the UK. It’s natural to be worried about robots replacing human caregivers. But remember, robots should complement humans, not replace them. More research needs to be done on using technology to streamline the caregiving sector’s operations.