CARE robots could soon be common place in Japan’s nursing homes and hospitals as the government wants to use the automated bots to plug an ever-growing gap in caregivers for the country’s ageing population.
The government is pushing for increased acceptance of this method of support as it predicts robots will care for 80 percent of elderly by 2020, according to a report from The Guardian.
With an expected shortfall of 370,000 caregivers by 2025, efforts are being made to quash the skepticism and resistance to technology.
“The mindset by the people on the frontline of caregiving [is] that after all it must be human beings who provide this kind of care,” said Dr Hirohisa Hirukawa, director of robot innovation research at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology.
“On the side of those who receive care, of course initially there will be psychological resistance.”
This reluctance to embrace the future of caregiving means that lifting robotics have so far been deployed in only about eight percent of nursing homes in Japan.
So far, development has been focused on the simple robotic lifting devices that enable frail residents to get out of their bed or into a bathtub, for example. But the government has far more ambitious plans, recently including in its list of priorities a machine that can predict when patients want to use the toilet.
“Robotics cannot solve all of these issues; however, robotics will be able to make a contribution to some of these difficulties,” Dr Hirukawa told The Guardian.
Hirukawa’s research centre has worked on a government-backed project to help 98 manufacturers test nursing-care robotic devices over the past five years, 15 of which have been developed into commercial products.
The aim of the project is to fill a gap in caregivers, while alleviating the strain on nurses and providing the elderly with more autonomy at home.
While human-like bots reminiscent of Blade Runner are still a long way off, the current robots use smart-technology to perform a specific task for a patient. One example is an electric-boosted mobility aid that a person can hold onto when walking around city streets.
The sensors detect if the user is going uphill and a booster function is activated. When the walker is detected going downhill, an automatic brake kicks in to reduce falls.
Other devices in the pipeline include wearable mobility aid devices and technology that guides people to the toilet at the right time.