Robots could be the key to improving the quality of life of those in old people’s homes, claims a University of Salford researcher.
While robots may be famed in science fiction films for trying to destroy humanity, now they could be required to save it – or at least our intergenerational interaction.
Antonio Espingardeiro has addressed the boredom and isolation of retirement homes’ residents by entertaining them with robotic cats, seals and humanoid robots.
The project is part of Mr Espingardeiro’s PhD, which is about the ethics of human and robot interaction. According to his research, these machines can provide cognitive assistance, supervision and entertainment for those who suffer from an ‘emotional deficit’ – or, not having enough interaction with younger people.
He said: “The population of the UK is growing older and, as a result, a lot of people are being left isolated and lonely, even in the best care settings.”
Mr Espingardeiro has worked with more than 74 people – including carers, relatives and managers in care and extra care facilities – during 45-minute sessions over an eight month period, where residents’ levels of happiness were improved as they participated in a range of interactive games and activities with the robots.
“The robots are a novelty at first,” he said. “But they are also less threatening than entertainers or other people who come into homes to interact with people. And since you can programme them, I’ve been able to make sure that something different happens every week, so the visits never become stale.”
But are we just using robots to fill in for us with our aging population because we don’t have time for them?
Mr Espingardeiro is conscious that his project isn’t just about ‘buying a robot for granny’, but a meaningful way of bridging the gap between elder and younger generations.
“Robots aren’t the only solution to this growing issue, but they can be a part of it,” he said.
The research still has a year to run but Mr Espingardeiro believes his work is ahead of the rest of the world – even the Japanese with their rapidly aging population and advanced robots are only just starting down this path.
“It might seem like a strange thing to be doing at first, but my results show how much of a difference this can make,” he added.