¿Te van a cuidar los robots cuando envejezcas?

La población mundial está envejeciendo rápidamente. El Instituto Nacional sobre el Envejecimiento sugiere que para 2050, 1.500 millones de personas tendrán 65 años o más . Los países de altos ingresos tienden a tener una mayor proporción de personas mayores. Sin embargo, los países menos desarrollados ahora tienen las poblaciones que envejecen más rápidamente, lo que hace de este un desafío global. La tendencia al envejecimiento también está cambiando dramáticamente la proporción de personas mayores con respecto a personas menores de 65 años. Esto es importante porque aquellos en la profesión de cuidado de personas mayores generalmente son menores de 65 años.

Teniendo en cuenta estas proyecciones, tiene sentido que algunos aspectos de la atención deban ser subcontratados a robots para aliviar la escasez de cuidadores humanos y proporcionar una vida más segura y saludable para las personas mayores.

La demanda del mercado para crear robots que cuidarán a los “baby boomers” cuando se jubilen está en marcha, y algunos ya están disponibles comercialmente.

De un ‘hogar inteligente’ a un asistente

El desarrollo de sensores y dispositivos que podrían monitorear a una persona, hacer un seguimiento de la salud y la actividad, y señalar si existe un peligro potencial ya se estaba considerando desde principios de los años 90. Un simple sensor de cama, por ejemplo, podría detectar si una persona se levantó de la cama durante la noche pero no volvió a entrar, lo que provocó la necesidad de verificar si todo estaba bien.

El concepto de “hogar inteligente”, un sistema inalámbrico de sensores ambientales que proporciona información sobre los movimientos de una persona y conecta dispositivos y dispositivos domésticos, es un concepto bien establecido ahora gracias a la “Internet de las cosas”. Sin embargo, en el pasado En un par de años, la tecnología de asistencia se ha vuelto más sofisticada y elaborada. Por ejemplo, considere los sistemas de videoconferencia con ruedas que se pueden pilotar de forma remota, combinando elementos de un hogar inteligente con aspectos humanitarios de cuidado que también incluyen sensores para el seguimiento biométrico.

El Proyecto GiraffPlus fue una iniciativa financiada por la Unión Europea que exploró el uso de este tipo de robótica con personas mayores. Se cree que tuvo un impacto en los desarrollos futuros del sistema de asistencia social en Europa. El robot de telepresencia Giraffe ya está disponible para su compra. El robot se puede combinar con sensores colocados alrededor de la casa, imitando la presencia de una persona.

‘Comidas sobre ruedas’, literalmente

La compañía coreana de robótica Yujin desarrolló un robot llamado GoCartque está destinado a entregar comidas en centros de atención para ancianos y hospitales.

Yujin believes eventually its robots will be able to take over at meal times and free caregivers for other more important duties. GoCart is able to do delivery and recovery tasks, monitor the world around it with its simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) vision system and talk to other GoCarts. It is operated easily and gives patients great control over their environment. For instance, an individual can order snacks via their smartphone and have them delivered. GoCart can also call for an elevator and move between floors. Yujin advises that robots will be affordable, saving both time and money as well as becoming a viable option for many health-care institutions. In March 2017, the company announced they will be starting with demonstrations of the 2.2 version of their robot, which can also carry large items, such as linen or waste bags. If this initial testing is successful, mass commercial production is planned for end of the year.

Robots with a Heart

In the near future, robots won’t lend only a mechanical helping hand. Increasingly, they are being designed to also cater to people’s emotional needs and act as companions.

In Japan, famous for its aging population and advanced robotics technology, a particular push was made to create communication robots for elderly with cognitive disabilities such as dementia. These robots can assist people with daily activities, medication adherence and scheduling, as well as provide some meaningful interaction.

PARO (Daiwa House Industry), Pepper (SoftBank) and PARLO (Fujisoft) are some of the most famous communication robots available in Japan.

PARO, a furry, seal-like robot programmed to bond with its owner and produce human-like emotions has been used as a therapeutic tool with people with autism and dementia. A study performed by Merel M. Jung and her colleagues at the University of Twente, Netherlands, showed that PARO had a positive effect on the well-being of patients with dementia. Care providers using the animal-like robot observed how it could stimulate communication and interrupt challenging behaviors. However, it was also noted that pet robots could sometimes overstimulate their users and were not appropriate for a broader group of older people, for instance, healthy people still living independently.

In 2015, SoftBank launched the sale of Pepper–the world’s first robot that reads emotions and also generates its own based on facial expressions, words and surroundings. For example, Pepper is happy when he receives praise, and his emotions manifest visually through a heart display that changes different colors based on its mood.

Do You Want a Robot to Look After You?

Robots are increasingly becoming more humanized. Nonetheless, the question remains as to whether robots can really replace human caregivers. And moreover, would you want a non-human to look after you? Different objections have been raised, for example, robots might increase the feelings of objectification, loss of privacy and personal liberty, and infantilize older people. A systematic review published in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association suggested that there is still a lack of evidence supporting the effectiveness of robots in health care. Also, opinions among the elderly appear divided, and their expectations and attitudes towards robotics are not fully understood yet. However, if a manpower shortage in the health-care industry continues, we might quickly become more grateful and accepting of artificial assistants to augment our care.