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Elderly people in care homes will be kept company by robots


Elderly people in UK care homes will soon be looked after by robots that ‘learn and tailor their conversations’ to who they are with.

The £2.5 million ($3.4m) EU-funded trial scheme, starting in September, is designed help to take the strain off over-burdened carers, family and friends.

The four-foot (1.2-metre) tall humanoid companions have been programmed to recognise the needs of residents, according to the firm behind the pilot.

However, advocates for residents and their relatives have argued that it risks treating old people like commodities and losing the much needed ‘human touch’.

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The four-foot (1.2-metre) tall humanoid companions (pictured) are designed to recognise the needs of old people who might otherwise be alone 

The four-foot (1.2-metre) tall humanoid companions (pictured) are designed to recognise the needs of old people who might otherwise be alone 

The trial a collaboration between researchers from the University of Bedfordshire and Advinia Health Care, one of the UK’s largest healthcare providers.

The care-giving robots, called Pepper, have been designed by Japanese company Softbank Robotics.

Tablets on the robots’ chests mean residents can Skype call people, watch or listen to something, or be reminded when to take pills. 

Dr Chris Papadopoulos, a public health expert at Bedfordshire, said that the robots were not designed to replace care worker’s jobs but help an already strained workforce.

He said the robots could provide company to old people ‘who would otherwise be by themselves’.

However, Judy Downey from the Relatives and Residents Association charity says the scheme means ‘treating people like commodities’.

Speaking to the Express, she said: ‘The key to looking after someone is having a relationship in which you might notice if someone is upset after a phone call or if they look unwell.

‘What matters is the smile, the human touch.’

The £2.5 million ($3.4m) EU-funded programme could take the strain off over-burdened care workers and reduce the stress on family caregivers, the company says. The care-giving robots, called Pepper (pictured), have been designed by Japanese company Softbank Robotics

The £2.5 million ($3.4m) EU-funded programme could take the strain off over-burdened care workers and reduce the stress on family caregivers, the company says. The care-giving robots, called Pepper (pictured), have been designed by Japanese company Softbank Robotics

Tablets on the robots' chests mean residents can Skype call people, watch or listen to something, or be reminded when to take pills

Tablets on the robots’ chests mean residents can Skype call people, watch or listen to something, or be reminded when to take pills

Speaking to the Express, Dr Papadopoulos added: ‘These robots are able to adapt, learn and tailor their conversations according to what they find out about an individual just as two people might do in a normal conversation’

‘The software is in this way groundbreaking.

‘We want to explore to what extent they might prevent loneliness and isolation, improve mental health and reduce family caregiver stress.’  

Developers say the robots can understand 80 per cent of conversations.

They also have the ability to learn from conversations in both Japanese and English.

‘Robots will not replace care workers but such innovation could streamline processes such as medication delivery, setting reminders and providing access to technology and entertainment’, Dr Sanjeev’s Kanoria, Chairman of Advinia Health Care told MailOnline.

‘This technology will not only improve care delivery, but also promote independent living and quality of life.

‘Particularly for dementia patients, agitation can be reduced by offering culturally-appropriate care support.’

Last month another robot developed by Softbank Robotics was deployed at a hotel on Lake Garda.

Last month another robot developed by Softbank Robotics was deployed at a hotel on Lake Garda (pictured)

Last month another robot developed by Softbank Robotics was deployed at a hotel on Lake Garda (pictured)

Named Robby Pepper, the robot (pictured) has been taught a list of questions such as the locations of the spa and restaurants and their opening hours

Named Robby Pepper, the robot (pictured) has been taught a list of questions such as the locations of the spa and restaurants and their opening hours

WHAT ARE PEPPER ROBOTS?

Emotion-reading robots called ‘Pepper’ have been designed by Japanese company Softbank Robotics.

The expressive humanoid is designed to identify and react to human emotions.

Equipped with cameras and sensors the robots are 4ft (1.2 metres) tall and weigh 62lb (28kg).

They can react to human emotions by offering comfort or laughing if told a joke.

Developers say the robots can understand 80 per cent of conversations.

They also have the ability to learn from conversations in both Japanese and English. 

They have already been used in a number of places, including banks, shops and hotels. 

In 2016 SoftBank replaced staff at a new phone store in Tokyo with 10 humanoid Pepper robots to give suggestions and answer questions from customers.

And in December, Nescafe hired 1,000 Pepper robots to work in home appliance stores across Japan to help customers looking for a Nespresso coffee machine. 

Last month another robot developed by Softbank Robotics was deployed at a hotel on Lake Garda.

Named Robby Pepper, the robot has been taught a list of questions such as the locations of the spa and restaurants and their opening hours.

In September 2018, these robots are going to be used to helped look after elderly people in the UK. 

The firm says the humanoid companions have been programmed to recognise the needs of residents.

Tablets on the robots’ chests mean residents can Skype call people, watch or listen to something, or be reminded when to take pills. 

These robots represent an expansion in automation, but one that is likely to be scaled up only when better artificial intelligence is developed.

Named Robby Pepper, the robot has been taught a list of questions such as the locations of the spa and restaurants and their opening hours. 

The use of such robots is growing in services sectors like tourism, where the scale of business can overwhelm staff with menial tasks.

Most of the automatons serve mainly as novelties – humanoid versions of an Alexa or Siri meant to marvel customers.

They represent an expansion in automation, but one that is likely to be scaled up only when better artificial intelligence is developed.

The International Federation of Robotics, based in Frankfurt, Germany, forecasts sales of professional service robots will grow between 20 per cent and 25 per cent a year by 2020, from about 79,000 last year.



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