Robots ‘will help with independent living within five years’


A new report for the communications watchdog OFCOM has predicted that assistive technology could help disabled and older people live “longer and richer lives” at home over the next 20 years.

Within five years, disabled and older people could be using robots at home to perform basic household tasks, according to the report Assisted Living Technologies for Older and Disabled People in 2030.

The report says technology could deliver better opportunities for entertainment, education and social interaction; help improve fitness; make it easier to work from home; and improve social and health care.

Progress should be boosted by cheaper equipment and mass availability of broadband.

The report also predicts a wider use of internet-based video-calling – providing opportunities for social contact with friends and family – web-based learning, and access to other services on the internet, such as shopping and banking.

And it says more disabled and older people should be able to work or volunteer from home.

There should also be opportunities for improved telehealth services, with technology used to deliver health care, treatment, or monitoring services, while telecare services will be used to monitor people at home, using devices such as sensors that summon help after a fall.

Telehealth and telecare could mean fewer trips to hospital and make people feel more secure at home, as well as giving them more control over their condition, the report says.

But the report also warns that increased use of assisted living technology risks isolation for disabled and older people, and the loss of face-to-face contact. Other concerns include the cost, reliability and accessibility of equipment.

Alan Norton, chief executive of Assist UK, which leads the national network of disabled living centres, said: “I do feel that there is a great opportunity to use technology and make life easier for disabled people to enjoy a full life.

“In most applications that’s great, but you have to be careful about total isolation.

“The risk is that people are isolated in their environment, which may be totally independent, but social interaction needs to be there.”

But Norton said the benefits of new assistive technology would certainly outweigh the risks, while robotics would have a “massive role to play”.

He said that assistive technology needed to be built into everyday objects, such as light switches and cooker controls, and added: “I think technology will be built in and it will become a matter of fact in everybody’s life.”

But he said manufacturers needed to work more closely with disabled people on the design and development of new products.

2 June 2010

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