Looking for the right robot
Like many developed countries, Finland is facing a major challenge: the ageing population requires an increasing amount of high quality and ethical care at a reasonable cost.
One solution could be found in service robots, which are being studied in the new ROSE research project funded by the Academy of Finland.
'To be able to guarantee quality services into the future, we need to establish what new opportunities developments in robotics will offer for health care and well-being services,' sums up Aalto University Professor Ville Kyrki, who is the responsible leader of the project. Along with his research group, experts from many different fields are involved in the work.
'We have nursing students and nursing scientists from Laurea University of Applied Sciences, sociology and ethics experts from the University of Tampere, a research group specialising in visual perception from Tampere University of Technology, innovation researchers from Lappeenranta University of Technology, and researchers from VTT developing ease-of-use and ethics,' lists Kyrki.
'We're also cooperating closely with employee and employer organisations and, of course, with customers in, for example, service homes.' Service robots are being studied in many large projects around Europe, but ROSE is one of the few in which development work begins with user needs.
An tablet on wheels
So, what do users actually need robots for? According to Ville Kyrki, one important starting point is that robots are not intended to replace people – this is something that robots simply cannot do.
'Robots can beat people at chess and quizzes, but they can only understand things to the extent that a person has programmed them. Just think about the incredible complexity of a human hand and what an amazing tool it is! In terms of physical activity, toddlers are already more skilled than robots in many areas.'
One of the potential uses of service robotics being studied in ROSE is remote presence. Even now, many elderly people living at home can talk to their nurse via phone or computer. A robot would make it possible for the nurse to also move around the home with the elderly person and thus gain a comprehensive picture of the situation.
'In its simplest form, this would be a little like a tablet on wheels,' says Kyrki with a smile.
If a nurse could double the time spent communicating with the customer, this would in some cases be more valuable than being physically present.
'Home care employees currently spend a large part of their time sitting in a car. If a nurse could double the time spent communicating with the customer, this would in some cases be more valuable than being physically present,' he believes.
In addition to clarifying needs, the ROSE project is also studying and developing service robot technology. Along with being functional the technology also has to be easy to use, because many users have restrictions: deteriorating vision, trembling, problems with hand-eye coordination.
'During the first year, we intend to concentrate on surveying needs and requests. We want to use the right information to eliminate the overly ambitious expectations and groundless fears that are associated with robots,' emphasises Kyrki.
In October, the Academy of Finland's Strategic Research Council granted 3.1 million euros to the ROSE project for the 2015–2017 period. The project is scheduled to continue until 2020.
Professor Ville Kyrki
Tel. +358 50 408 2035