How do we make care robots actually affordable for those who need them?

13 Nov 201718 Shares

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Stevie the robot with Tony McCarthy. Image: Luke Maxwell

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Stevie, a robot built by engineers to meet a very present need in assisted care homes, has no plans to follow the crowd.

Earlier today (13 November), a team of robotic engineers led by Prof Conor McGinn of Trinity College Dublin (TCD) unveiled a robot called Stevie, which, if all goes according to plan, will be introduced into care homes in less than five years’ time.

The purpose is to prevent shortages of assisted care home staff by using Stevie and versions of it to check up on those in care and perform tasks such as making sure they have taken their medication, and letting them know of events planned during the day.

Speaking with Siliconrepublic.com, McGinn added that unlike our traditional view of robotic advancements – whereby the likes of Boston Dynamics show off very dexterous machines – Stevie serves a simpler purpose.

“[Stevie] is a shift from the paradigm. Most robots are developed, exclusively state-of-the-art improvements … they’re demonstrating what the technology can do, but we’re focused on what the need is,” McGinn said.

Options are endless

He added that another important decision made during its development was that, unlike other commercial robots, Stevie couldn’t be prohibitively expensive, as those who need it the most are unlikely to have the finances to buy one.

“To do this, the most sensible thing to do is look at service-based models where people lease it for a specific period of time.”

On hand to demonstrate its benefits was Tony McCarthy, who gave the example that in the event he may be the victim of carbon monoxide poisoning in the home, Stevie would be able to come in and check on him and alert the emergency services.

He said: “With a robot like Stevie, you can add to it, you can increase its capacity to do things, and, from that point of view, the options are endless.”

While McGinn and his team now have Enterprise Ireland funding to further the project commercially, other companies are already racing to have the first mass-produced care-home robot.

For example, in Japan, robots are seen as the answer to solving the country’s rapidly ageing population, with more than 25pc now over the age of 65.

Robots such as Chapit would not move around like Stevie, but would stay beside a person’s bed to chat with them.

Colm Gorey is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com