The robot assistant developed and commercialised by SARA Robotics improves the quality of life of elderly residents, eases their longing for social contacts and reduces the staff's workload. Care institutions are taking notice.
The SARA robot, developed as part of the "Social & Autonomous Robotic Health Assistant" innovation activity of EIT Digital, led by Bright Cape, was one of the main attractions at the EIT Digital Conference in Brussels last year. SARA Robotics, the startup created to commercialise it, has made many progresses since then.
It has already signed up three Dutch care institutions as customers, Zorggroep Elde Maasduinen, tanteLouise and Het Laar and, with the COVID-19 pandemic shining a spotlight on the wellbeing of elderly guests of nursing homes and on the shortage of staff there, its services are in growing demand.
"As visitors were no longer allowed in those institutions, we had a lot of requests, from our customers but also from other facilities, asking if it was possible to use the robot to help clients have some form of communication with their friends and relatives. So, we built the option to video call via SARA and we also explored more options such as the uploading of pre-made videos or photos which can be viewed by residents at any time, even without an Internet connection," says Emmy Hendriks, Product Manager of SARA Robotics.
The startup also set up a promotional campaign, "SARA stays over" (SARA blijft slapen), allowing care institutions to borrow the robots for free for one month, to get some support out of it and test its functionalities. "We just wanted to do something good for the residents of those facilities and, at the same time, it was a nice opportunity for us to showcase our innovation and see if these care homes would be interested to pursue a longer collaboration," Hendriks explains.
As of June 2020, more than 100 Dutch institutions subscribed for the SARA stays over campaign, as can be seen at a glance on a map created by the startup and shared on social media.
"It's worth stressing that, while indeed the coronavirus pandemic contributed to raise the attention on the shortage of nursing staff in care homes and on the quality of life of their clients, the problem has already existed for quite a long time and it is not going away anytime soon," SARA's product manager says.
In ageing European societies, the number of elderly people as a percentage of the overall population is constantly increasing, while fewer and fewer people choose to become healthcare professionals. Care institutions and hospitals, therefore, are facing serious staffing shortages and heavy work pressure has proven to be related to poor quality of care and to incidents such as medication errors.
The robotics assistants developed as a result of this EIT Digital innovation activity and commercialised by SARA Robotics provide a turnkey hardware and software solution for care institutions and hospitals to improve care recipients' quality of life and provide support to alleviate caregiver-staffing shortages. For instance, the SARA robot can support elderly people suffering from first-stage dementia to perform specific exercises designed to improve their mental and physical fitness and delay entering the second, more acute stage of the illness.
The robot can also play games, support music therapy and perform repetitive tasks, such as reminding staff and clients of certain events and checking the client's wellbeing.
For now, SARA Robotics aims at commercialising the product almost exclusively on the Dutch market. Starting next year, the startup will expand its reach by enabling different kinds of robot hardware systems to run the SARA software, and it will try to enter the European and the United States markets.
"Hopefully next year we will create another map of SARA's presence in care institutions, and we will pin all these pointers across the globe," Hendriks says.