Jun 19

Could robots help us care?

Posted: 26 June 2019

Lindsey HansonThis week is UK Robotics Week, where hundreds of robotic events take place across the country, showcasing the advances made in the world of remote application services. Lindsey Hanson, Recruitment and Retention Project Manager at Skills for Care, reflects on her experience attending a workshop, and how robotics can benefit the adult social care sector. 

This week I find myself thinking about a workshop I attended around robotics. At the ‘Robotics and artificial intelligence and social care’ event, we heard from three professors on robotics, as well as an employer who has a passion for emerging technology. It opened my eyes to the many opportunities available to us, and how robots could one day help us provide quality care and support to those who need it.

There are lots of assistive and robotic technologies used widely in our sector, such as monitoring and alarm packages that check people in their homes. During the workshop the professors urged us to think about embracing robotics more in the care sector. Even though we’re not the leaders in using technology in this sector, we’re making some headway.

There are so many developments happening, from environmentally assistive SMART devices that help with tasks in the home, to physically assistive robotics that overcome mobility problems such as robotic limbs, and even socially assistive companion robots that are being designed to aid independent living.

As we use technology more and more in our daily lives, it seems timely for local authorities to implement assistive technology into homes of people who use services. Think about smartphones, Fitbits, Apple Pay, home security systems, Alexa and Siri, all making everyday tasks easier. We only need talk to them and they do things for us. Could we incorporate more technology like this into care settings?

The future is here

Professor Praminda Caleb Solly talked about her project ‘DesignAbility’ and working on assistive technologies that can use Google home technology to assist people who receive care and support, to help ageing-related impairments such as cognitive and memory decline.

Some local authorities have started trials with this type of technology already and are seeing the benefits, from big cost savings to enhanced quality of life for those people being supported.

Professor Luc de Witte then told us about the work he does with robots that look like sea lions or small children, and how they help engage children with learning difficulties or autism.

There were many fantastic initiatives and advancements shared during the workshop, and one of the more impressive bits of tech came from the ‘CARESSES’ project, which is focusing on creating a culturally competent and sensitive robot that can interact with people and learn their likes and dislikes.

This came about when Professor Gurch Randhawa, from the Institute for Health Research, identified a need whilst visiting a family member in a care home. He realised that she would benefit from a talking companion to sit with her for extended periods of time and remind her to do things – difficult for busy care staff to facilitate.

Some may say that a robot isn’t the answer, and that human interaction is necessary for the wellbeing of those who need care and support. There’s also the worry that robots and other technologies will take jobs from human beings.

But that’s not true, is it?

It shouldn’t be assumed that everyone wants the same thing when it comes to their own personalised care and support. It can be much easier for those losing their independence to accept for instance, a robotic arm helping them to eat a meal than somebody else feeding them. Having options gives people choice, which is what good care is all about.

We also know the sector has a massive gap of over 110,000 vacancies at any one time alongside an ongoing recruitment challenge. It then makes sense to help all kinds of services to improve their offer by finding roles for ‘other types of workers’ or look at new and emerging roles that includeassistive technological elements.

I originally attended the workshop to understand what was happening in the world of robotics and AI, and how this might link with any work we do on values-based recruitment and retention. I came away feeling excited about exploring the subject further and the possibilities these advances present. I think the future is very exciting!

Find out more

Discover how your organisation can embrace technology and become more  ‘digital ready’ on our website here. We have information and resources to help you on your journey.

Follow all the activities happening around robotics on Twitter @UKRobotics #RW19.