What Are Robot Caregivers? Pros, Cons & How They Work

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When thinking about what the future might bring, many think robots will play a greater role in our daily lives. While it’s easy to imagine a dystopian reality where robots take over the world, the reality is likely much more mundane. For those who need extra help, robot caregivers can fill a huge gap in our communities. 

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What are robot caregivers? How does this work outside of science fiction, and are these really on the horizon? Caregivers come in all shapes and sizes. From family members to healthcare providers, this is an important role. However, caregiver burnout is a very real thing. The goal of technology is to find ways to aid current caregivers and assist with simple and complex tasks. 

With the aging population growing at a rate we’ve never seen before, technology needs to step in to adjust to new challenges. In this guide, we’ll share how robot caregivers work, as well as the pros and cons of this type of tech. In general, we should all be looking for better ways to serve the aging community and beyond. 

What Are Robot Caregivers?

With that in mind, what are robot caregivers? This is a new concept, so it’s normal not to be familiar with what it means. As the name implies, these are robots driven by some form of artificial intelligence (AI) to perform some kind of task for humans who need extra help. 

Purpose

There are many purposes for robot caregivers. Thanks to modern AI advances, robots are expected to play a larger role in our lives in the next few years. This is true especially for those who need extra help, like the elderly or those living with disabilities. While family members, friends, and healthcare professionals typically offer assistance, there are limits to how much humans can help. 

This is where robot caretakers come in. Because they can deliver their own forms of connection and assistance without the same limitations as humans (i.e., burnout), they can offer help to those in need. Though this technology is new, these robots will likely perform in the following ways:

  • Companionship: Robots are becoming smarter than ever, and they can serve as companions for those who experience loneliness. Like a pet, they can be there in ways that humans can’t.
  • Caregiver assistance: Most new robots aren’t designed to replace humans. Rather, they’ll assist existing caregivers with things like tracking appointments, medication, and daily tasks. 
  • Social engagement: Robot caregivers can also facilitate social communication through encouraging contact with friends, video calls, and so on. 
  • Warnings: Lastly, robots can provide warnings for potential health hazards. 

Still, there are a lot of concerns about letting robots play such an important role in our daily lives. Not only are there ethical questions, but governing bodies also need to make decisions on how these will be regulated in the future. 

Origin

With seniors 65 and up making up the fastest-growing demographic in the US, the need for a larger eldercare workforce has been apparent for decades. There is already a healthcare shortage, and this will only grow worse as more people need long-term care in some capacity. Since the early 2000s, scientists and programmers have worked on what’s called socially assistive robots. 

These robots began very simply, and they perform similarly to other computers. However, as it became clear that people expected a social component to these interactions, these robots became more advanced. Today, robots like Stevie can answer questions, navigate facilities, and provide companionship. 

What are the Pros and Cons of Robot Caregivers?

Like all modern technology, there are pros and cons of robot caregivers. While they certainly are an exciting way to overcome the obstacles of aging populations, they aren’t one-size-fits-all. Scientists, caretakers, and programmers alike have to answer very serious questions about the pros and cons of this technology. 

Though this idea feels very sci-fi, the reality is very different. Our modern robot caretakers are far from humanoid. They can still be used in a variety of ways, but they are in no way a substitute for human connection. That’s why it’s essential to understand the pros and cons. 

Pros

To begin, what are the pros of robot caregivers? Unlike sci-fi shows like Westworld, the actuality of these tech advancements are much tamer. Ideal for caring for children, older relatives, and those with health concerns, here are the pros:

  • Care crisis: First, we’re in a care crisis. With an aging population, we simply don’t have enough caretakers. The burden typically falls on loved ones, friends, and family. Even for those with strong extended families, caretaking is a challenge. Robots can handle these tasks with greater capacity. 
  • Accuracy: Technology can also be a way to increase accuracy with things like medication, medical procedures, and so on. 
  • Warnings: Because they’re designed to protect patients, robots can also be used to warn friends, family, and medical professionals of patient dangers. 
  • Healthcare: Robots are already used to some extent for medical procedures and healthcare. For example, some are so precise they can be used in operations, isolation rooms, and more. This reduces the burden on healthcare staff. 
  • Emotional connection: Loneliness is a very real problem for those who require caretakers. Though not a substitute for humans, there is a real emotional connection patients have with these robots similar to the role of pets. 
  • Caretaker breaks: Caretakers frequently struggle with burnout and exhaustion. Robots allow them to shift some of their responsibilities, taking care of their own needs. 
  • Companionship: Lastly, robot caretakers are another way to offer long-term companionship to those in need. 

Cons

Like all tech, there are strengths and weaknesses. It’s up to individual facilities and researchers to decide what’s most important to them. Nothing is perfect, and there are no simple solutions to the caretaking crisis. Here are some of the cons of robot caregivers:

  • Expensive: The biggest con is the cost. These cost several thousands of dollars or more, and that means they’re not accessible to everyone.
  • Mistakes: Robots also aren’t perfect. They can make mistakes just like humans. If this happens, who is to blame?
  • Training: It takes time to train medical staff and caretakers in how to use these tools. This is time that could be spent helping patients. In caretaking, time is money. 
  • Data hacking: Like with all forms of technology, there is a risk when it comes to data privacy and online security. 
  • Reliance: Another concern is that these robots will become too important within the caretaking systems. Where does the reliance end, and how can we combat tech addictions?
  • Regulations: Lastly, there is also the question of regulation. How will governments and agencies protect consumers and organizations from the interests of big tech companies marketing robots? 

Where Can You Find Robot Caregivers Today?

With that in mind, where can you find robot caregivers today? While we’re still a ways off from seeing robot caregivers working alongside healthcare professionals, there has already been quite a bit of change. Today’s caregivers have nothing to fear from the rise in this technology. If anything, these robots will reduce the burden these professionals carry caring for others. 

Believe it or not, some robot caregivers are already making their way into mainstream society. Here’s where you can find these tools today. While they’re not exactly widespread, they are becoming the new normal. 

COVID-19 Screening

During the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare providers were stretched further than ever before. While professionals were needed to assist those who already had symptoms, they also needed to come in close contact with potential patients when conducting screenings. 

Vayyar partnered with robotic healthcare pioneer Meditemi to create an enhanced robot that helps detect early COVID-19 symptoms. Created mostly for seniors, the robot even offers a rapid scan feature to check respiratory rate, heart rate waveforms, and temperature within 10 seconds. This keeps healthcare professionals safe while expanding the capability for care. 

Stevie in Senior Care

Another up-and-coming robot is Stevie. This is what’s known as a socially assistive robot. By engaging seniors socially and physically, he navigates senior care centers in useful ways. Aside from helping with medical calls for help, these are also a bot-of-all-trades for learning how humans interact with these machines. 

Researchers were surprised to learn that people mostly wanted the robot to keep them company. In a hospital or nursing home setting, patients easily feel isolated between family visits. Bots like Stevie fill in these gaps in connection.

Zora Therapy Robot

Lastly, Zora is the first social robot widely being used in healthcare today. Created by a Belgian company, Zora is changing the world of senior healthcare. These might look like toys, but they’re so much more. Controlled by tablets, they provide companionship in residential care facilities. They can lead classes, read, and deliver local news. 

What Do You Think About Robot Caregivers?

Now that you understand the role of robot caregivers, what do you think? How do these caregivers relate to the world of healthcare, and are they the solution we’ve been waiting for? Regardless of how you feel about new technology, we all have to adapt to the population’s new challenges. 

AI is a powerful tool, but it also needs a lot of structure. We need to work with caregivers to create better systems for support and long-term care. Robots aren’t a standalone solution, just as doctors and caretakers can’t be expected to do it all.

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