Getting old has just become a bit more frightening …

The social robot developed to assist elderly in chores and in stimulating interactions. Credit: University of Hertfordshire

No one, I guess, is looking forward getting old, unless you are very very young.  However, that’s the circle of life and it is something you have to bear with.

Technology has been promising to cast a helping hand to elderly people, and indeed progress in health care (that by far is related to technology) has improved our wellbeing through elderly age. Not just that. A very technological device like a cell phone is providing a way to be in touch and also a link to get help if needed plus some diagnostic support.

The examples are clearly endless, from the help to hearing and sighting to cleaning of the house using a robot.

Now, talking about robot, a team of researchers at the university of Hertfordshire in the UK has been funded by a European research program to develop a social robot that can assist elderly people in doing home chores as well as providing a surrogate friend to interact with.

They have completed the project and presented the final results, including the ones deriving from experimentation of the robots in assisting several elderly people in UK, France and the Netherlands.

Based on the experiments and on the project’s reviewers it would seem that indeed a social robot can be accepted as a companion by elderly, can help them not just in daily chores but also in having a better life helping in preventing loneliness and isolation and in engaging into stimulating activities without being perceived as intrusive.  

It seems like the relation is not a fake one, that is pretending that the robot is actually a human being. The robot remains a robot, and also its shape is clearly far from a humanized character. Hence the relation that is forming is not one between humans but one between a human and an engaging machine that has the capability to generate empathy.

You can take a look at the clip, showing the robot in action.

I can surely see the usefulness of the “chore relieving” part but I feel uneasy about filling a potential sense of loneliness with a machine.  Interesting to read the comments of several people reading the news. They span from acceptance of its usefulness to complete refusal.

For my part, imagining myself interacting with one of these robots and possibly appreciating it just gives one more reason to be concerned about getting old.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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