Why Not Nurse Grandma With A Robot?

Many adults have found themselves making difficult choices with aging parents who want to live independently, but are increasingly frail (I've been in this situation with my mother-in-law and my father). What does the field of robotics and telepresence have to offer?

Here is a nice summation of some of the positive benefits of using assistive technology:

Surveillance: Robots can not only help with some of the above direct benefits to payers and providers, but they can assure family members that the elder person is receiving the care that is their due, and that the nursing home is taking appropriate steps to look out for their health. This surveillance, as well as input of user data via camera and microphone, is able to measure emotion, mood, sentiment and affect.

Privacy: Just like a diary or a confessional booth can provide conversational privacy, people seem to prefer talking with avatars, especially about their health. Multiple studies (1, 2, 3) have shown that people are generally more comfortable talking with an avatar, especially in a healthcare setting. Robots can also help with very simple private tasks, such as helping someone go to the bathroom, change a bedpan, or other privacy-related tasks that you and I would not want a person to help us with.

Social status: Just as people consider the iPhone or a fancy car as a sign of wealth, a robot that answers the door can be a sign of social status (like my Grandmother’s sequin-covered electric wheelchair). Technology is cultural: those who own and control a technology define a social class.

Companionship: Robots – especially software robots like the ones we make at Geppetto – also offer companionship, mental exercises, conversation, guidance, and advice on health-related issues from pharmaceutical to dietary information. This companionship also includes to-do lists for bathing, laundry, cleaning, cooking, feeding, food shopping, pharmacy visits, etc. This companion can keep track of certain health data like blood test results and blood pressure, weight, height, temperature, etc. Integration with peripherals like Apple and Samsung offer an easy step for such open APIs. And then there’s the custom data, non-normative data, and personalization and customization that these systems can learn.

Science fiction writers have thought about this for almost a century. Consider the psychophonic nurse from a 1928 short story by David Keller:

"I had her made by the Eastinghouse Electric Company. You see, she's just a machine nurse, but as she doesn't eat anything, is on duty twenty-four hours a day, and draws no salary, she's cheap at the price I paid."

"...let me show you how she works. She's made of a combination of springs, levers, acoustic instruments, and by means of tubes such as are used in the radio, she's very sensitive to sounds.
(Read more about the 1928 psychophonic nurse)

Fans of the wonderful anime film Roujin Z by Katsuhiro Otomo recall the Roujin Z-0001 robotic bed. Take a look at the short trailer below; it's really amazing.


( Roujin Z-0001 Robotic Bed )

Also, don't forget the companion robot from Philip K. Dick's The Midas Plague. (There's another PKD robot, but I'm having trouble finding it...)

Update: Thanks to @palmer_eldritch, I remembered the Robant from Dick's 1953 story The Impossible Planet.

Behind Norton came a withered old woman. Beside her moved a gleaming robant, a towering robot servant, supporting her with his arm...

End update.

Read the excellent article at Robohub.org

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