Starting today (10/10/12), the Rehacare conference in Düsseldorf will see the use of robotic assistance for elderly, sick and disabled people as an important topic. Experts predict a promising future for applications including household aids, emergency assistance, dining/walking/mobility aids, and wheelchairs with robotic arms. The use of robotic assistance in rehabilitation and nursing is extremely diverse, and is far from being exhausted.
Robotic systems, for example – depending on the degree of impairment of the person concerned – are ideal for providing power assistance or compensation of no longer existing physical or cognitive skills that support the management of household activities, mobility, communication or self-care. By providing help with washing, dressing or eating as examples, robotic assistance can make things easier.
A possible scenario that could take place in the future is as follows: an elderly man collapses. The sensor box in his apartment recognizes the emergency and sends the mobile robot assistant to him, which detects the position of the victim, locating and allowing him through its integrated screen to communicate with the emergency services, even supplying the injured person with a glass of water while waiting for assistance.
Not all robotic assistance offerings, however, are on the the market. Key problems include the high cost of implementation and the reliability of the revolutionary technology. Currently though, there are two examples of wheelchair assistance that will be showcased at Rehacare, which have already been tested and are ready for practical use: „MySpoon“ produced by Esshlife and Roboterarm’s „Jaco“.
Still, the market for so-called rehabilitation robots is small: from 2011 worldwide sales of 2.5 million service robots for example, vacuuming and floor cleaning, there were just 156 units intended for assistance and care- mainly automated wheelchairs, therapy and training robots. „In the next four years there are indications that there could be a four-digit amount of units sold,“ said Birgit Graf, robotics expert at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation. (Quote translated by kon.media)
Especially with an aging population, robotic assistance can contribute to an increase in the independence and quality of life of people in need of help by reducing their dependence on third parties. However, this requires user acceptance and ease of use, as well as an appropriate introduction to the technically-complex tools. It is also important that the robot will not completely replace human contact, but simply assist. It is more than likely that the potentially significant cost of robotic assistance in Germany will be subject to debate.