In Japan, robot-led weddings, robot factory workers and even squeaky robot pets are all fine and good. But in-home helper bots, which are the main goal of many robotics research projects, are anything but widespread, even in that robo-friendly country. Apparently old people and sick people, even in Japan, still prefer that human touch.
Rather than humanoid robots that do favors like pick up juice boxes, and even be-limbed 'bots that wash people's hair, some roboticists are increasing their focus on machines like self-adjusting beds that turn into wheelchairs, as this BBC story reports.
Especially in Japan, efforts to build lifelike, useful humanoid robots often center on care for the elderly. Japan is an aging country, and it admits very few immigrants who could work as nursing home attendants or in-home care providers. But so far, the robots can't do enough to be very useful, robot companies and analysts tell the BBC.
Cute, pet-like robot companions have sold modestly well, the BBC notes — more than 1,000 Paro baby seal 'bots are in Japanese nursing homes and hospitals, as well as private homes. This is not a staggering figure, but that could be because of its $2,800 price tag.
Joseph Engelberger, 85, who invented the first industrial robot in the 1950s, said robots ought to be more common. Every year, 200,000 elderly Americans fall and break a leg, and robots could help prevent that, he tells the BBC: "Robots should cost the same as a Mercedes and could be rented out. That would be a bargain compared to paying $600 a week for help."
After years of spending billions of yen on humanoid robot research, the Japanese government is increasingly focused on simpler, more practical robot platforms that can perform simple tasks. The five-year Home-use Robot Practical Application Project, started in 2009, seeks a bot that can be used as both a wheelchair and bed; a cleaning robot; a security robot; a wearable robot suit that assists daily activities; and a two-wheeled rideable robot, according to Tech-On.
These single-minded 'bots might be more palatable to elderly people and patients, the BBC says — already, some hospital robots have been abandoned because patients didn't like them. A $100,000 hospital model "put patients off," the BBC says: "We want humans caring for us, not machines," one patient said.
The current generation of elderly people may not accept this technology but i doubt they are tweeting and posting on Facebook either. As younger people who are techno savy grow older i am sure that they will be much more willing to lean on a robotic shoulder.
The elderly in Japan must disgust the younger generation. "We will create robots so we don't have to take care of the people who took care of us." Wow, ungrateful to a new level of contempt. I feel sorry for the elderly over there.
@Mr.Revolution: I disagree. I'm part of a younger generation and have no problem with social media or using technology to assist me in the home. However, there is a big difference between using an iPhone to order groceries and a machine taking care of you while you are sick. I would want the human interaction. Bedside manner is very important for patients and I doubt you get much of one from a robot.
I think that it might be a matter of perceived control. The idea of a fairly autonomous machine interacting with you in a fairly intimate way is probably pretty off putting. Having it look 'humanoid' may or may not help.
A bed/wheelchair that you control is probably easier to take.
I think it's whatever the person is comfortable with. Some people might prefer the human touch, but having something that's not alive examine you could be preferable to others. I personally would prefer a live human, though.
This reminds me of the study that found that infants needed human interaction.
All humans need human interaction--we're social creatures.
I'd still be down with a robot doing my dishes, making my meals, and cleaning up my messes while I sat around and chatted with my friends... even if I was 100yrs old.