Is a robot called Baxter the future of elderly care?

Is a robot called Baxter the future of elderly care?

The future of care for the elderly could look very different with the introduction of a robot to carry out many of the duties currently done by carers. Baxter, the android in question, has been developed at the Imperial College of London’s Personal Robotics Lab, with this exact purpose in mind.

Featuring two arms and equipped with artificial intelligence, Baxter is able to establish if its elderly charge is struggling with a task and offer the required help. An animated face adds to the feeling that the robot is a nurse there to give care as opposed to a machine.

The robot can position itself in the best way to help and then aid an individual in everyday tasks like getting dressed. 3D-printed fingers and dextrous limbs mean Baxter can act like a human being and function in a way that is no longer possible for some people as they age.

Baxter is a modified version of an earlier robot that was created by Rethink Robotics in 2011. As well as helping with tasks, it will also be analysing the movement of the individual it’s working with over time and relaying information to medical professionals to track any signs of decreased mobility.

Yiannis Demiris, director of the Personal Robotics Lab told Bloomberg: “There’s an increasing need for technologies that will allow people to maintain their independence, and through that, satisfy their fundamental human desire for privacy and dignity.”

The researchers have developed Baxter in response to a widening gap between the number of nurses needed and those available. A collaborative report published by King’s Fund, Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation suggests that by 2023-2024 nurse shortages will reach 70,000.

It is not suggested that Baxter and similar robots replace care staff altogether, but instead maximise their time. By doing some of the less specialised tasks, the robot could be freeing nurses up to offer care in other areas that require more of a human presence.

The use of robots in healthcare is nothing new, with a number of high profile examples having proved successful in various parts of the world. The da Vinci robot is used to carry out complex surgical procedures, while Pepper, the humanoid, is helping to prevent loneliness amongst the elderly and ensure they can keep their independence for as long as possible.

Don’t expect to see Baxter in a care home next time you go to visit an elderly relative or friend, as Imperial is still working to improve its functionality. There are also a number of tests that need to be carried out before widespread use of the robot in this manner becomes a reality.

Despite this, the future of elderly care could be characterised by more robots, especially as experts expect qualified nurse numbers to plummet post-Brexit. Whether they look like Baxter or are developed even further is yet to be seen.