Could robots soon care for Sweden’s elderly?

Could robots lend a hand to Sweden's under-pressure healthcare system? Research being carried out by experts at several Swedish universities may have the answer, as they invest in developing more advanced forms of the machines which would be capable of detecting emotions as well as whether a patient is hungry or tired.

Could robots soon care for Sweden's elderly?
Umeå University's computing science department is using the Socrates robot (pictured) in its research. Photo: Mikael Hansson/Umeå University

In particular it is thought that robots could be useful in helping to care for the elderly, a researcher from Umeå university explained.

“In the short term we are working on research and development of individual functions, for example, how a robot would be capable of understanding particularly incoherent speech,” Umeå University computing science professor Thomas Hellström told The Local.

“In the long term robots could provide reminders about medicine and meal times, and improve safety by detecting falls,” he added.

There is even evidence that the robots could help elderly people with dementia to communicate better with other people and human carers.

“There is research which shows that elderly people communicate better with others if they also communicate with a robot. The same thing applies to kids with autism,” Hellström explained.

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Umeå University already has its hands on one relatively advanced robot named Socrates which is polite, can dance, and makes different physical expressions. Next year the university will take on two robot researchers who will try to further develop the machine’s speech and interactions, with the hope that it will eventually be capable of adapting to human emotions, SVT reports.

But as futuristic as it all sounds, Sweden and the west are actually playing catch-up with Japan when it comes to using robots in care, said Hellström.

“Japan is far ahead of the west in this area. Above all because they have a big proportion of elderly. The problem however is global, and the EU is investing a lot of money on research within the field.

Presumably the new robots will be more effective than those built by Swedish robot enthusiast Simone Giertz, who became a Youtube sensation thanks to her malfunctioning machines.