Automation continues to increase in industrial settings, but a lot of the innovation in the industry is in personal care robots. These robots inspired “robots” in factory settings, and have made a difference in the level of acceptance of robots in the public in general.
A new care robot showed up at the most recent consumer electronic shows: the Cutii.
Cutii is designed for older adults, both at home and in institutional settings.
Why do elderly people need robots?
One study in the United Kingdom before the pandemic found that 22% of those surveyed had only three interactions with other people per week. More than half their days included no contact with other people at all.
One third of American seniors live alone, and the pandemic has meant for many of them that they rarely leave their homes. Younger relatives may not be allowed to visit them. More than half told researchers in June that they felt isolated.
Cutii can help seniors talk with others, including care-givers or doctors. It can also serve as a hub for smart devices in the home. Callers can ask Cutii to go to the owner, if they want visual information about their loved one. Cutii makes emergency calls, sends dictated messages, and connects owners with activities like cooking classes and museum visits.
“Owner” may be the wrong word, since Cutii is rented for $100 a month. A professional plan costs more, but is still a bargain compared with human caregivers.
Should robots care for the elderly?
As in agriculture and construction, a labor shortage is hastening the use of robots in elder care. Japan is expecting to be short of caregivers for the elderly by 1 million workers within a couple of decades and the United States is not far behind.
In Japan, robots are already often used to help with tasks like lifting and moving aging patients, feeding them, and completing other physical tasks. Japan is also the birthplace of Paro, a robotic baby seal that can reduce the need for anti-anxiety medication for Alzheimer’s patients.
But is it okay fir human beings to delegate caring for other people to robots? Not everyone thinks that’s a good idea.
“The fact that more things are technically possible does not automatically make their introduction either desirable or benign,” says the World Economic Forum. They worry that meeting physical needs with robots will lead to even greater isolation among the elderly.
The pandemic is speeding up shifts to automated solutions, but this might not be a good thing in every case. Even if Cutii is indeed pretty cute.