Robots: unpopular in the home, increasingly popular on the front

Paul Raven @ 08-02-2011

We’ve made mention previously of Japan’s strategy to help its rapidly greying population with robot home-help, which is a wonderful idea on paper… but there are a few problems: for a start, effective useful robots aren’t cheap, and the care recipients aren’t actually that keen on the idea.

“Robotic support of the infirm and elderly has got to be aimed at improving quality of life,” says Geoff Pegman, managing director of one of the UK’s few robot manufacturers R.U.Robots. “It should not just be for governments to save money in caring for them.”

Robot guides have been removed from hospitals because they “put patients off”

The Japanese government and care industry now seems to agree after robots have turned out to be too expensive, impracticable and sometimes unwelcome, even in “robot friendly” Japan.

The country’s biggest robot maker Tmsuk created a life-like one-metre tall robot six years ago, but has struggled to find interested clients.

Costing a cool $100,000 (£62,000) a piece, a rental programme was scrapped recently because of “failing to meet demands of consumers” and putting off patients at hospitals.

“We want humans caring for us, not machines,” was one response.

That said, one look at the institutional care system in the UK should be enough to tell you that human-provided care isn’t de facto better; the underlying problem seems to be the way we’re increasingly viewing the elderly and infirm as a sort of toxic asset on the social balance sheet, something to be stored away out of sight, “managed” with minimal resource expenditure. “Grannyfarming” – especially in light of of a new ConDem policy of withdrawing most regulatory oversight from an already deeply corrupt and greedy industry – is a shocking business; when pictures of animals being neglected on a similar scale are broadcast, there’s a national uproar. A sad state of affairs.

But there’s a definite pattern emerging, wherein we’re turning to machines to do the sort of jobs that meatfolk aren’t so keen on. According to Wired, one in fifty soldiers in Afghanistan is a robot. One assumes they’ve been programmed carefully so as not to get disillusioned with the task of exporting democracy and deciding to leak sensitive documents to whistleblower websites…

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