Personal service robots are out and about. So we’ve been talking about personal care robots for a long time – including the social engagement use of Paro the robotic seal, studied and re-studied at MIT. Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal ran an article about a rented robot ($3000) to liven up a party. Looking like a vacuum cleaner extension with eyes, it roved around a wedding on Segway-like wheels, presenting a movable and real-time image of an the groom’s 82-year-old mother who was physically unable to attend. Finally, a viable example of a robot in the service of an older adult!
Robots and seniors – prediction but no presence. In a speech at MIT in 2004, there was mention of a predicted $6 billion market in service robots by 2009. But it didn’t happen. iRobot, the most well-known company achieved revenue of more than $400 million in 2011, primarily in vacuum/floor care robots and military applications -- 1 in 50 troops was apparently a robot. VGo’s $6000 robot, according to the WSJ, has been used to attend classes on behalf of an ill teenager. An Anybot robot was used to create office presence for offsite workers. GeckoSystems, focused on mobility and wheelchairs, now believes the ubiquity date is 2020, but they are launching another CareBot by 2012 year end.
Senior housing organizations don’t see what others see. So robots are out there in the military battlefields, serving as remote presence proxies, following Microsoft engineers around the house, and of course, they are all over the manufacturing and assembly worlds. In many ways, they have met all of their long-term predictions EXCEPT for personal care – and they are notably absent in senior housing, including nursing homes. Scanning the ALFA presentation program for this May, such tech talk that is in any session is about electronic medical records and efficiency software. And in a sign that robots are viewed as still futuristic, LeadingAge published a November article about a few university research examples of robot use in senior care (come on, not Paro the seal again!!!!)
If senior housing organizations don’t ask, they won’t get it. Rather than wait for the Japanese or emulate LeadingAge (repeating the same potential uses noted in 2009) ask now -- you may get what you need. Senior housing executives should publish a Request for Ideas to a few robotics companies for cost-effective and innovative service uses -- first with pilot projects. For example, consider providing remote visitation/nurse consultations with doctors who can only visit communities monthly; using robots to accompany frail seniors into separate community rooms in which staff cannot be in two places at once; deploy night time long-hall observations driven by the nurse but enabled by a care robot; conduct inventory of resident supplies for re-order; and finally in dementia care, offer robot-based interactive programs that are personalized to the functional capability of residents. And...did I mention personal care services?