Advanced robotics and computer technology could soon be combined in a much more cost-effective way to offer independence for disabled people with high support needs in their homes, a conference has heard.
Trying to “reinvent people” by cramming everything into one extremely costly “humanoid” device would do little to achieve independence, the conference heard.
Instead, the assisted living systems of the future could see many different robotics devices scattered around the home, all controlled by a central computer.
Richard Greenhill, founder of Shadow Robot Company, the British company that has created “the world’s most advanced robot hand” – which is so lifelike it can handle a raw egg without cracking it – said the assisted living robotics devices of the future could be relatively inexpensive and use mostly cheap, easily-made parts.
He said such systems would be far more likely to boost a disabled person’s independence than a “humanoid” robot “tottering around the place on wheels or legs” to deliver a cup of coffee.
Greenhill was speaking at a two-day international conference, Technology with Disabled and Older People, hosted by the London School of Economics.
Greenhill said he was working on developing a system that could use robotics devices that were 10 or even 100 times cheaper than current technology.
He said the system would be designed in such a way that if one device malfunctioned, the others would still work.
He said such devices “may move quite slowly and may not be very powerful” but would still be able to provide the necessary support with aspects of independent living such as communication, cooking, washing and entertainment, and would use different technology for different tasks.
Greenhill told Disability News Service afterwards that it would also be important only to provide as much support as was needed, so the robotics devices did not “take over” from the disabled person and were designed to “help you rather than treat you as a piece of meat”.
This could also mean the role of the care workers of the future would be “radically different”, providing technical support and discussing with the service-user what changes to make to their system, rather than performing lifting and other manual tasks.
But he said he worried that the new system could be “a bit obtrusive”, so there was a need for discussion with disabled people about how much of this potentially bulky technology they would accept in their homes.
Feedback from potential users on the development of such systems would be absolutely vital. “It has got to actually please the users,” he added.
For information about Shadow Robot’s work, email [email protected].
30 March 2011