Posted: Sat 26th Oct 2019

UK government moves ‘one step closer’ to developing robots capable of caring for the elderly with launch of £34m fund

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Saturday, Oct 26th, 2019

The UK government says it  has moved ‘one step closer’ to developing robots capable of providing support for Britons and making ‘caring responsibilities easier.’

With the UK social care sector in the grip of a staffing crisis, a £34 million government fund has been launched to develop robots which could help ‘look after’ elderly people.

One in seven people in the UK will be over 75 years old by 2040, the so-called “care robots” could help provide the UK’s dedicated adult social care sector with more assistance for those who need it most.

The government says it has launched the UK’s biggest research programme entirely dedicated to making autonomous systems safe and trustworthy for public use.

The investment is aimed at developing robots to one day fulfil tasks such as helping an elderly person up after a fall and raising the alarm, delivering food to an older person at mealtimes, and even ensuring they take crucial medication at the correct time.

Autonomous systems are currently built across industries to solve challenges, but in order to be used by people they need to be designed to be safe, keep data secure and have a clear set of rules in order for them make effective decisions.

This cutting-edge programme will undertake research into their design, for example ensuring robots are better protected against cyber-attacks and that they demonstrate principles like respect, fairness and equality enabling them to eventually be used in environments like care homes and hospitals.

It will provide developers, policy makers and regulators with access to world leading experts, as well as the to the latest information and guidelines around this technology.

In the healthcare sector, resulting applications, such as care robots, could work in tandem with professionals to assist and complement their work, and help relieve pressures.

Science Minister Chris Skidmore said:

“A staggering one in seven people in the UK are now expected to be over 75 years old by 2040. As our society ages, most of us will have to care for a loved one, whether it’s a grandparent or a parent or a partner.

It’s vital that we meet the needs of this ageing society, and through cutting edge research like this we will ensure that as technology advances, the UK leads the way in designing and adopting it, growing our status as a global science superpower.”

While development continues, those who work with the elderly feel it will be a long time before robots can completely replace humans.

“There are lots of ways in which technology can enhance care and make it more efficient, but for now and possibly forever there’s no substitute for the human touch when it comes to personal care,” said Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age U.K.

“Maybe in the future technology will evolve to the point at which ‘robots’ are able to provide for many of our needs, including personal care,” she added, “but we don’t see it happening very soon.”

Funded through the government’s Strategic Priority Fund and delivered by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the £34 million investment will “help tear down public trust barriers” by ensuring autonomous technologies like robots and self-driving vehicles are shown to be ethical, viable and safe. the government says. 

The programme will look at developing reliable autonomous systems across all sectors – from automated personal shoppers, to robots that select the best mortgages, by bringing together researchers and experts, as well as involve the general public so that their needs are understood.

Ethical and legal considerations will be incorporated when developing autonomous systems, so that new advances will be more resilient to cyber-attacks and be as safe as possible for consumers.

[Feature image – BBC3/YouTube]

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