Robots as personal health assistants

Average Ratings Feasibility

Although the idea of robots at home assisting people has been around for a long time (indeed this is a prominent idea already in the science fiction literature of the early 20th century), the idea now takes more shape in accumulating knowledge about the functions and roles in which people would actually accept a robot in their personal surroundings. Apparently large proportion of people are favourable to the general idea of a robot companion. A recent Eurobarometer study on robotics (see MEMO/12/667) revealed that more than two-thirds of EU citizens (70%) have a positive view of robots; the majority agree that robots “are necessary as they can do jobs that are too hard or too dangerous for people” (88%) and that “they are a good thing for society because they help people” (76%) [1].

Future Developments

Results have highlighted the specific roles and tasks that people would prefer a robot companion to perform in addition to the desired behavioural and appearance characteristics [3].

 The finding that people frequently cited that they would like a future robot to perform the role of a servant is maybe similar to the human ‘butler’ role. Ogden & Dautenhahn [2] considered the concept of ‘robotic etiquette’ in relation to body movements and positioning to convey polite interactions to advance the social-interaction abilities of robots. For example, butlers need to know how to wait discreetly until given an order to perform a task, and to know when to speak to their employer. This requires great awareness and sensitivity to social situations [3].

 Other tasks that a competent butler should be able to perform include personal health care services, aid in repeated pre-defined situations which require additional assistance: getting up, sitting down, rehabilitation, measuring of physical parameters, transferring information to health professionals.

 Robots may lend a helping hand to caregivers by assisting them with repetitive tasks like vital signs monitoring, dispensing of medications and fall detection [4].

 Additionally, users can use these robots to connect them to friends and family who may live far away. This feature has already received positive a lot feedback: people like internet technology delivered via the robot, because they find it’s easier to use than a computer [4].

See also .The European Commission, industry and academia have agreed to launch a Public Private Partnership (PPP) in Robotics, to help Europe-based companies take a larger share of the €15.5 billion annual global robotics market [5].

[1], accessed March 11th, 2013.
[2] B. Ogden and K. Dautenhahn, “Robotic etiquette: Structured interaction in humans and robots,” Proc. SIRS2000, The University of Reading, England, pp. 353-361, 2000.
[3] Kerstin Dautenhahn, Sarah Woods, Christina Kaouri, Michael L. Walters, Kheng Lee Koay, Iain Werry, What is a robot companion?
[4] accessed March 11th, 2013.
[5] , accessed March 11th, 2013.


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6 Responses to “Robots as personal health assistants”

  1. Interestingly Cisco’s futurist addressed among other forecasts the following:

    By 2030, there will more robots on earth than humans. Two types of robots will exist – physical humanoid robots and virtual avatars. These robots will coexist with humans, working alongside us in nearly every activity of our daily lives. If worry is setting in that these robots might displace many human jobs, Evans notes that while some jobs will eventually be displaced by robots, many more new jobs will emerge in the future that only humans are able to tackle. With the right education and training for workers, robots will also free people to perform safer, more fulfilling work. This is very similar to how the web revolution has created all kinds of new work that never existed before (such as bloggers, Big Data analysts, and designers of online shopping recommendation engines).”

    • I agree on the statement that humanoid robots and virtual avatars will make our lives a lot easier and that sooner or later everybody will be used to them. But 2029 is also the year for which important scientists like Ray Kurzweil forecasted that robots and machines will be equally intelligent. Computers might even be able to build new, more intelligent machines. Machines are already able to create art and affective computing (even if it is still in its infancy) will soon make computers be able to evaluate a human’s psychological state better than any psychiatrist. In my opinion, at some point in the future, machines will be able to do any task better than we can. Scientists who develop and build robots, machines and intelligent systems try to imitate human beings. It probably is still a long road but technological development is gathering speed all the time so scientists might reach this goal earlier than most people expect. And since they are recreating human brains, machines then might also have abilities like artistic and emotional thinking. Many say that for several reasons machines could never replace physicians. Intuition is a powerful “tool” that up to the present just humans can use for decision-making and medical diagnosis. If a patient comes to a physician and the physician recognizes that the patient’s nails are yellow he might use his intuition or a gut feeling to make the right diagnose. But isn’t intuition just knowledge you collected somewhere without knowing where, when and how? I could imagine that a machine could replace a physician’s intuition. You would need methods to collect not only symptoms and demographic data but also information about a person’s behavior, appearance, etc. Affective Computing is heading in that direction. With a very comprehensive collection of such patient data and an algorithm which processes this data machines might be able to dispense intuition. Besides medical decisions computers might also be able to make management decisions. So why shouldn’t managers get replaced by machines? I don’t think that robots will just do work that is too exhausting, dangerous or boring for humans but also all tasks they are better than us. And how much work will remain for us if we build robots that are imitations, copies of humans? And even if there will be new jobs invented, why shouldn’t machines be able to do this tasks also?

  5. Comment 2: – Robots as personal health assistants

    In my opinion, the movie “I, robot” provides a very interesting outlook into what a world inhabited by robots might look like and catches some of the aspects rather well. Although, evil robots going haywire and attacking humans is a very prevalent theme in popular fiction, I do not think, that this is either very realistic or especially likely. Robots, after all, are just like computer programs: They can only do what they are programmed to do. With that out of the way, I think that a world where humans and robots live side by side will be a very interesting place to be.
    Another resentment I do not share, is that of robots taking away human jobs. The “something-taking-away-our-jobs”-theme is even more commonplace than the “evil robot”-theme and has been around in countless variations probably since the dawning of time. So far, this has always proved to be untrue. While it has certainly been the case that some professions have disappeared or were made redundant by technological advancement, this gap has always been bridged by new occupations that no one even could think of beforehand. I’m fairly certain, that the same will happen now when robots finally take over our workplaces.


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