Thursday, 5 June 2008

Robot pets and healthcare

Demographics tell us that in the future there will be an ageing population.  There won't be enough young fit people to look after sick and elderly people in future.  We will need machines to play a bigger part in healthcare.  We already do this with little concern in hospitals, where machines commonly keep people alive and provide for critical functions in cases where the body is unable to do so.  Of course in hospitals we expect those machines to be operated by skilled consultants and practitioners.  Increasingly we will see technology tasked with health monitoring and care in people's homes.  

The machines in homes can be made more personal than those in hospital.  An elderly person may be looked after by a robotic pet, while believing that they are in fact looking after the pet.  Such a robot may monitor physiological characteristics of the person, or analyse daily routines, or how often medication is taken.  They may alert the person or signal others outside the home if such monitoring detects an abnormal or unusual pattern of behaviour.   I don't mind if my mother-in-law is looked after by a robot; my wife has a slightly different view!  The technology is arriving before people are comfortable with its uses.  As attitudes change, more will be done by robotic healthcare solutions.  

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