If you live long enough, one of these robots may be in your future.
This year for Christmas, Hasbro is selling what they call an animatronic cat for elders who cannot have a living pet.
It responds to touch, movement, sound, and it purrs:
The cat is essentially a toy (more information here) but you ain't seen nothin' yet. Dozens of care and companion robots with various purposes and capabilities are being developed.
Mabu provides support for people with such chronic diseases as diabetes arthritis, cancer and heart disease. Take a look:
Here is a second Mabu video, showing how it (she? he?) works in everyday situations:
Mabu, produced by Catalia Health, is available now but only through healthcare providers on whom the price is dependent, according to the website.
Then there is Jibo. Not quite the health-centric robot of Mabu but it probably has some of the same kind of capabilities.
Jibo is still in development but during the Indiegogo fund raising campaign earlier this year, the price to preorder was $749. You can find out more here.
According to a New York Times report, drones are in the future of elder home healthcare too:
“The University of Illinois roboticist, [Naira Hovakimyan], recently received a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to explore the idea of designing small autonomous drones to perform simple household chores, like retrieving a bottle of medicine from another room.
“Dr. Hovakimyan acknowledged that the idea might seem off-putting to many, but she believes that drones not only will be safe, but will become an everyday fixture in elder care within a decade or two. 'I’m convinced that within 20 years drones will be today’s cellphones,' she said.”
I haven't worked out for myself the advantage of a flying robot over an earthbound one in the home and I can easily imagine a string of difficulties. (Closed door, anyone?) Somehow, though, I think I would be more comfortable with a straightforward machine such as a drone than a plastic facsimile of a human (or animal), but who knows.
So convinced are health, technology, futurist, investor and other specialists of the need and desire of elders (and their adult children, I suspect) for robot caregivers that dozens are in various stages of development and deployment throughout the world.
In large numbers, elders want to grow old in the homes where they have lived for many years. Most surveys come in at 89 and 90 percent and have done so for many years.
Further, as the baby boom generation ages into elderhood – turning 65 at the rate of about 10,000 a day since 2011 – concern is widely raised that, even though ageing at home is less expensive than assisted living and nursing homes, there will not be enough caregivers to help old people do that. Hence, robots.
For many years, my go-to person for sane and thoughtful input on elders and technology has been Laurie Orlov who has been producing the Aging in Place Technology Watch website since 2008.
Last week, she wrote about how eldercare robotics is nowhere near ready for prime time for some important reasons beyond the technology itself:
”The news media love stories about caregiver robot possibilities. But of course, they don't like to write about the reality.
“Who keeps Paro the seal clean enough for the elderly to pass from hands to dirty hands? Who makes sure that robotic devices are properly charged and operational? Or has someone invented another task for the overworked humans working in senior housing?
“And as for the home-bound elderly, is this better than a Skype call from a professional or family caregiver? Someone who guides a camera around the home setting and determines that an emergency is about to or has happened?
“Is it really necessary (or true) that everyone who could help provide care to older adults will have opted out or disappeared by 2050...In the meantime, there is at least one reason why the home care industry (the one that sends real people to the home) is booming. Paro, Pepper, Jibo, GeriJoy – all together, they just can’t get the job done.”
You can read more here.
In 2012, Frank Langella starred in Robot and Frank, a movie about a retired jewel thief whose son, worried that Frank's cognitive abilities are fading, gives him a state-of-the-art caregiver robot.
Obviously, this robot is way, way, way ahead of what is possible now. Frank begins as I would in the circumstance, despising the robot. By the end of the movie (spoiler alert), robot had become Frank's good friend and buddy.
There is much to consider in the idea that a collection of electronic nuts and bolts and circuit boards can become a companion as beloved as a human. More about that in a future post.