Robotics is readily recognized as a technology of potentially key importance in helping the growing elderly population with their needs. In the US alone 8.5 million seniors require some form of assistive care; growing to 21 million over the next 20 years. 91% of nursing homes are understaffed. And there are at least 65.7 million family caregivers (31% of U.S. households); however, the number of potential family caregivers for each person is decreasing.
To solve some of the understaffed problem South Korea-based Yujin Robot is carrying out trials of its GoCart meal-transport robot designed to operate in all elderly and health care facilities. The first field test is scheduled for 8 October 2014 at a retirement community in the northeastern US with another test scheduled at a facility in southern Sweden.
Yujin, who have developed GoCart Robot in partnership with ScanBox Thermo Products AB, a manufacturer of high-end food transport systems, claim that “GoCart has unprecedented flexibility and ease of use. It maps the environment and uses an array of sensors and cameras to autonomously carry out its deliveries without interfering with people or other objects.”
As its name suggests, GoCart is a robot cart that can be programmed to deliver food within elder care and health facilities, freeing up much needed time of care assistants and other staff so that they can focus more on emotional care and other human skills to aid people within their facilities.
When the automobile was first introduced it was widely considered to be a niche means of transport and something that would not replace the horse and buggy. Indeed many complained the cars were scaring the horses. Now people compare the transition from horse to car and the industrial revolution to what is happening with the robot and automation economy today: a time of disruption and upheaval. Ann Norton Greene, a U.S. historian at the University of Pennsylvania, whose remarkable book, Horses At Work, offers a fascinating insight into the transition from horse to car, writes: “You can’t change the conditions of a system without damaging a lot of people, business, practices and habits that go with it.”
The disruption did indeed cause some damage – new technology and economic revolutions always will – but just like the transition from horse to car and the rise of the automobile, many existing jobs were improved and enhanced and many new jobs were created.
The same is happening with robots and automation. Whilst jobs are likely to be displaced, many new jobs are and will continue to be created; additionally, existing jobs are being enhanced and shortfalls in staff filled by humans and machines working together.
So far the signs are encouraging that GoCart will enable staff to focus on more humane care and let the robots do the more mundane tasks.
Robb Cheek, Yujin Robot’s business developer says: “Private and public elderly care facilities worldwide already face labour shortages and skyrocketing costs; and fiscally constrained governments’ must provide high-quality care for their seniors while controlling costs.”
Placing robots in human environments inevitably raises important issues of safety, ethics, and economics – We will certainly be watching the trials with interest!
Yujin Robot’s have released the following video explaining the GoCart Robot: