Studies continue to pop up about the use of robotics in social care. Some look at the implications of robots from an ethical point of view, some look at how people in social care settings interact with robots and some examine the benefits and outcomes achieved. But what is available and what can these robots do?
How far have robots come?
Robots first came on to the social care scene in a big way when Pepper was launched in 2014. Pepper is a 4-foot-tall humanoid robot that has been designed with the ability to read emotions and interact with others. It has arms and a face, which contains two discreet cameras, and can hold conversations with people using its ‘voice’. It also has a screen on its front which allows it to show videos and play games with people, and the robot can even send emails and store people’s personality traits.
Pepper has been used worldwide for various tasks but in social care it is seen as a tool for companionship and entertainment. The idea is that care providers would own a Pepper, which could then interact with clients and make sure everyone is okay. It can also report to care staff if it picks up on cues that someone isn’t okay or if someone has said something to it that could be a cause for concern.
There is currently little inclination from the sector for Pepper to be used to provide personal care, and it isn’t able to support with paperwork, but the hope is that this robot will be able to alleviate some of the strain on care workers who can have more time for one-to-one interaction with residents, while Pepper keeps others entertained.
Robots as pets
Robotic animals are another much-discussed technology that has appeared in recent years. These have been around for longer than humanoid robots, but offer similar options in terms of solutions.
The animals vary, from a baby seal to a sleeping cat, but all of them are covered in fur and sized to fit on a person’s lap.
People are able to stroke the animals, and the robots will respond to human touch. For example, they might ‘purr’ when being stroked; some will also move to look like they are washing themselves.
Robot animals in social care are often seen as a tool for people with dementia, who sometimes find that it brings memories of old pets, and many people find that stroking and caring for the animal produces a calming effect for those who are experiencing stress or agitation.
The use of robots in social care is on the rise. Benefits could include better outcomes for people in care and more meaningful interactions with care staff.
But there is a risk that the wider use of robotics could cause some services to spend less time with residents, leaving the robots to do all of the emotional support. Are robots ready to take this on and should we rely on them in this way?