Personal Robots

Post from Jean Thilmany:

Jean Thilmany

We’re hearing about robots and robotic advancements being made to serve the elderly as companions. On the one hand, it seems rather sad to me. It says something about our society that we would rather create stand-in humans to do the job of family members. On the other hand, I understand fully. There was an interesting program on this recently on NPR.

Three bits of news got me thinking about these issues recently.

First, in early May, about 25 European researchers met at the University of Orebro, Sweden, to design robots that help the elderly and their families live a better and more independent life. The event is part of project “Robot-Era,” which will last for four years. Organizers hope to produce new technological solutions that improve the quality of life of elderly people and their caregivers.

The second news is that a recent Royal Academy of Engineering report said robot cats and other man-made companions could help the British elderly. The report said that autonomous devices like the Japanese Dream Cat Venus, which costs around $110, may provide a variety of different services to older people—ranging from basic companionship to medical monitoring.

Finally, in April, GeckoSystems of Conyers, Ga., announced that it has been working on the release of its new CareBot personal assistance robot, a version of which already helps elderly in Japan with daily tasks. Japan recently hit 47,756 in their population of residents who are 100 years of age or older, according to GeckoSystems.

“This is not constrained by the technological possibility of it so much as by the desire to do it—and that is bound up with all sorts of social factors,” Will Stewart, a professor at the Optoelectronics Research Centre, at Southampton University told the Reuters news service. Stewart contributed to the Royal Academy report. “It is not a complete replacement for your kid calling you once a week. What you want is continuous attention and that is very difficult,” Stewart said.

It’s Stewart’s line about continuous attention that swayed me. No matter our intentions, few of us can quit or jobs or lives to care full-time for a loved one, especially a person with intricate healthcare needs. In fact, I hope technology moves a fair bit forward before I reach advanced age.

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The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

May 2012

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