/ Health, Technology

Could robots be our carers?

Robot care

Growing up watching TV shows like Metal Mickey and films like Star Wars, I used to dream of having my own personal robot. But that dream now seems a little closer to reality…

I thought that my robot could help me out with all the chores I didn’t want to do, and would be cool to hang out with when none of my friends were around to play – although, I’d probably have preferred it to be more R2-D2 than C3PO.

But now that this fantasy might actually become a reality in mine or even my parents’ futures, I’m not too sure how comfortable I am with it.

Human-like robots

To help solve the looming elderly care crisis, an international team of academics are currently working on a £2m project to develop humanoid robot carers.

These robots are designed to assist in the care of older people in homes, sheltered accommodation, and even in their own properties.

The personal social robots will be able to be pre-programmed to suit their ‘human’s’ needs and help out with everyday tasks, such as chores and supervising medication.

But, these robots will also be able to tackle loneliness by offering companionship and the ability to connect better, through smart appliances, with the outside world.

The project aims to expand the capabilities of the Pepper robot (which is already used in thousands of Japanese homes) to build a machine that can re-configure to match the culture, customs and etiquette of its charge.

The robot will also be able to speak, move independently and pick up on signs that the older person is unwell or in pain.

And it could be available in care homes in as little as three years.

Cyborg concerns

Although I’m not in need of care for my parents just yet, thinking about my grandparents when they started needing help at home, it’s not a million years away either.

So would I be comfortable leaving them in the care of a robot while I went to work and carried on with my own life? And, despite my childhood fantasy, would I even want it for myself?

I wonder how much I could really trust a robot – what if it went rogue and started dishing out pills like Smarties? Or, if my parents took a fall in the night and needed urgent medical help, would the robot be able to react accordingly?

Then there’s the very real prospect of it developing a fault, as technology does.

So, would you be comfortable with a robot carer? Could you get the appropriate care and attention from a robot as you’d get from a human?


I currently care for my 91 year old dad. and have been doing so for almost 2 years now. The govt pay me a derisory £63 a week for doing it. (FYI I earnt that in just over 2 hours when I had a job).
Most of his care is just routine. The things that cause me more issues are hospital/doctor trips. How will a robot cope with driving my dad to the hospital? That’s assuming it can help get him out of the house. The poor man is on water tablets, and uses a potty during the night, I can’t see robot coping with emptying that once let alone every day. The bedroom to the toilet requires going down 3 steps.
Whilst I fear that someone has decided that this could save £63 a week. I don’t think its even a starter for me. Will the robot know when the quacks have sent the wrong medication ? And yes that is a real world issue. Sadly too many people only view the NHS with rose tinted glasses.

Well, what next? I can see no sensible reason why a machine would be more capable of looking after a patient than a person. And how do they travel between clients and what will they cost to buy and maintain? I’d much rather see the money invested in training people to do these jobs and in supporting them properly.

I feel where family is available and capable they have a responsibility to look after their own family, just as the family looked after them when they were young. It is hard work and i applaud William for doing what he does. But I am sure his Dad is far happier being cared for by a loving son than by anyone else. This does relieve the state or local authority to look after those without any relatives; however the public sector should provide extra necessary help, and relief care, to help the family when required and when they need a break/

Malcolm, Thank you for your kind words.

Just going down the pharmacy to get your pills, then I’LL BE BACK.

Sophisticated robots are currently very expensive – in industry they do simple repetitive jobs very well. It is hard to see how they could be both affordable and flexible at the same time.

I seem to recall that Which? has tested “robot” vacuum cleaners with mixed results.

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All computer based tech things can and do go wrong as it is seen time after time

It’s true that “All computer based tech things can and do go wrong” but the same is true of humans , and they can even be malevolent, which computers can’t – at least, not until AI is significantly more sophisticated. But for the moment, I suspect DerekP’s comment is the critical one. Current Robotics is still at the crawling stage; there still doesn’t exist a humanoid robot that can climb stairs quickly and reliably and until much more efficient batteries are developed I doubt the £2m – little more than a drop in the ocean – will have much effect.

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I was listening to Radio 4 just now where they were discussing heart, brain implants and hearing aids, that have wireless input to alter settings for example. They, it was said, have no firewall or other protection because of the extra power required which leaves the possibility of them being hacked. Possibilities such as altering the volume of hearing aids and playing David Bowie music, altering your heart rate or even causing it to stop, and more worryingly altering the way your brain responds. So hacking caring robots? Using a smartphone to cause mayhem is something I’d rather not look forward to 🙂

Thoughts, questions.

Provided the robots are governed by Asimov’s Three Law of Robotics (below), I have no objection.

Joke apart, if robots are used as complements, I can see this as a very positive thing, eg relief for carers, even for an hour or so.

How likely is it that robots are going to be offered as a replacement for carers altogether anytime soon?

Let’s never lose sight of the fact that not everybody has the power to be a carer, however worthy of admiration carers are (hats off, William).

What do we call a robot?

We know that humans can make serious mistakes too, eg dish out the incorrect medicine or dosage. Would robots be more or less likely to make those mistakes?

I’m sure I prefer some robots to some humans.

I’ll have to stop here, lunchtime is over.

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Roll on the Caves of Steel…