Robot helpers tackling social isolation

Home help robots could become a reality, reports AbilityNetA screen shot from a Dr Who BBC fil showing Tom Baker as the doctor and K9

What do K-9, Metal Mickey and iRobot have in common?  All three were designed as companions; for The Doctor, a family and for the elderly. Robots for social isolation are now a reality.

Japan, for example, is already exploring how robots in care homes could combat social isolation.

The Japanese government has funded the development of elder care robots to plug a predicted 380,000 shortfall in specialised workers by 2025, according to Reuters

Care homes in Japan are using SoftBank Robotics Corp’s Pepper to engage with patients. Pepper is a humanoid robot, which is able to hold conversations through a wearable tablet screen. 

Seal of approval for Japan's care homes

Japan's care homes are also embracing the concept of robotic animals to provide companionship.

This includes PARO a robotic seal, which is pretty cute and fluffy as robots go. 

Modelled on a Canadian Harp seal, the therapy robot Paro has a rhythm of the morning, daytime, and night and is active during the daytime, but gets sleepy at night.

It has five sensors that are able to react to light, temperature, posture and sound PARO has five kinds of sensors including tactile, light, audition, temperature, and posture sensors. Paro feels being stroked or being held by the posture sensor.

PARO can also recognize the direction of voice and words such as its name, greetings, and praise with its audio sensor.

Closer to home robotic cats are providing comfort to the elderly in UK care homes.

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Others are looking to robots to care for people either at home or in an assisted living environment. 

In the US where over 11 million seniors live at home, BUDDY is a robot that aims to provide companionship in the home. BUDDY "walks around the house like a pet" according to the website and is one of the more emotional robots we've featured, here. 

He has a range of emotions he'll express during the day based on real-world interactions, and could become grumpy if he's ignored. He doubles as a personal assistant and can interact with your smart home connected devices. BUDDY is also able to detect falls and other unusual activity.

The Care-o-bot from Fraunhofer IPA operates in a number of German assisted living facilities.  Already in its fourth-generation, the Care-o-bot is designed to serve food and drink from a kitchen. It can also play memory games with occupants to help keep their minds sharp.

Read about smart home technology and how it can help disabled people

Robots waiting tables in Japan

Also in Japan, a cafe is reportedly being staffed by robotic waiters being controlled remotely by paralysed people.

Ten disabled people are controlling the robots in the Dawn Ver cafe in Tokyo with the robots' controllers earning 1,000 yen (£7) per hour. The controllers have a variety of conditions including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neuron disease.

The aim is to provide paralysed people with a sense of independence. 

Called OriHime-D the 1.2-metre tall robots are the brainchild of Japanese start-up Ory. They were originally designed to be used in the homes of disabled people but were being used in the cafe on a trial basis. 

The creators are raising money via a crowdfunding campaign to see if they can get enough to open a Dawn Ver cafe permanently from 2020.

Robots reducing isolation in younger people

It isn't only the elderly that can experience feelings of isolation.  No Isolation's AV1 robot sits in a classroom and provides a connection and a virtual presence for young people with long term conditions. 

The small, portable robot can be used as a child’s eyes, voice and ears in the classroom in cases where the student has a long term health condition. It's popularly used by TechShare Pro Special Award winner 2018 Lewis Hine to attend college. 

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