Would you trust “nursing care robots” with an elderly family member?

Nursing Care Robots: (pasukaru / Flickr)

Would you trust a robotic nurse with your health, or with that of an elderly family member? This is exactly what you might be doing in future if new international safety standards check gives approval to so-called “nursing care robots”.

Talks of a robot nurse that is “gentle enough to bathe an elderly patient” are not new; we have heard before of the government asking companies to produce low-cost robots that could act as carers, as part of efforts to reduce the effects of an aging society [though our writer has suggested another reason for this] but it seems we are closer than ever to seeing mass-marketed, low cost robot carers in both Japan and abroad.

The Yomiuri Shimbun has reported that the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is looking into a set of safety standards the Japanese government has proposed that could help turn research lab robots into the real thing – and not only in nursing homes and hospitals.

The Japanese government has been providing subsidies to R&D companies working on certain robot functions since the start of this fiscal year; if the trialled nursing care robot can help the elderly walk and use the toilet or help carers lift, hold or monitor patients, the company gets cash. The results of this could, the government thinks, might be a reduction in the burden on existing care workers as well as a boost to the economy with a ‘new’ manufacturing sector being allowed to flourish.

The ISO – an organisation that sets industry standards for manufacturing – needs to give its stamp of approval to those companies so that they can turn trials into mass-production, reducing costs and helping the government reach its aim of having affordable products on the market for general consumers. That they will also already have something of a head start globally and with agreed international standards in place means the export market could be opened up easily.

So would you trust the nursing care robots? Well, it seems that the wheels in motion for standardization will provide reliability in the future, and clearly the applications are different to an empathetic, personal approach to medicine and care that surely only a human will ever be able to give, but the industry is certainly one to watch out for and something we’re clearly going to have to get used to.

Image: “Nursing Care Robots” by pasukaru/Flickr


by Matthew Holmes