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Robots could play a key role in caring for the elderly, claim scientists

Robots could play a key role in caring for the elderly, claim scientists
21st November 2013

Robots could be used to provide care, support and even companionship to elderly people in the future, scientists have claimed.

Japan is currently the country with the world's oldest population and prime minister Shinzo Abe has earmarked 2.39 billion yen (£14.3 billion) in his budget for this year to develop care robots.

Toli Corp has already created a mat which tracks an older person's movements by using a wireless sensor, while Toyota is working on robots that provide mobility support to the elderly.

Meanwhile, Panasonic has created a robot with 24 fingers that is capable of giving head massages and washing hair and tested it out in salons.

In Europe, the University of Birmingham has received a grant of €8 million (£6.69 million) from the European Commission for its Spatio-Temporal Representations and Activities for Cognitive Control in Long-term Scenarios (STANDS) project.

A robot produced as part of the project is due to begin work at a care provider in Austria this May, with duties including that defibrillators are in place and that fire doors are not blocked.

Dr Nick Hawes, senior lecturer in intelligent robotics, said the machine should be able to free up more time for staff members.

One of the biggest complaints of care home staff members is that they don't spend enough time doing the human interaction and the caring part," he told the BBC.

"We're looking at porter-type tasks and assistance tasks. If the robot could fetch the tray of medicine while the human talks to the residents instead of getting the tray and just dishing out the medicine because they're short on time, it increases interaction."

A group of eight European universities and care providers are currently working on a project that takes robotics for the elderly to another level.

The Mobisery project is working on a droid that provides social companionship as well as advice on health and nutrition.

Obviously, we're a long way from robots like those seen in movies such as Bicentennial Man, but scientists appear confident that machines will play a major role in the care sector in the future.