Caring Robots?

Caregiver robots will succeed by making recipients comfortable with new kinds of relationships.

Caregiver robots will succeed by making recipients comfortable with new kinds of relationships.

Very soon, a new generation of caregivers will begin helping elderly people and others who need assistance with Activities of Daily Living or ADLs. 

These caregivers will be robots.

It's going to take some work on both ADL providers and recipients to get comfortable with these relationships.

Providers are hard at work creating robots with several important characteristics:

  1. Technically capable - caregivers must be able to navigate a recipient's environment safely and carry out caregiving responsibilities adequately.
  2. Emotionally acceptable - caregivers must be able to deliver their caregiving services in ways that are, at minimum, non-threatening. This means their physical presence must be designed to send comforting signals. Caregiver robots will need "faces," "bodies" and "gestures" that reassure recipients that they are not dangerous and, in fact, "caring." Care is indicated via emotionally empathic behavior, a tall order for robots to exhibit.

Recipients will be able to take advantage of these caregiver resources if they are:

  1. Open - the barriers to accepting care from robots will be predominantly emotional, so successful providers will help recipients to adopt an open attitude toward the experience of receiving robot care.
  2. Trained - teaching recipients to interact with robots will become an important part of provider services. Many ADL recipients today receive training in using various types of durable medical equipment. In the future, this training will have to include robot interaction.

Given the size of the global elderly population, caregiver robots are poised to become a huge economic opportunity.  To succeed, providers will have to take the realities of this new relationship into account when designing hardware, software and user orientation.