The UK has become the first European country to test the use of collaborative robots in care settings.
Working with Japanese robotics developer, Cyberdyne, Hampshire County Council and PA Consulting, which leads the Argenti care technology partnership, aim to explore how collaborative robots – or cobots – could help with the physical demands faced by stretched care sector staff.
Already in use in Japan, cobots are worn around the lower back and actively support carers in moving objects or supporting people. Using electrodes, cobots can also detect electrical signals between the wearer’s brain and their muscles and convert this into motion.
Councillor Liz Fairhurst, the council’s executive member for Adult Social Care and Health, said: “Through our partnership with PA Consulting, we are proud to be at the forefront of using technology in care to assist people to live as independently as possible. Our trial of cobots is all about our carers-kit which supports them and makes their job easier.
“While we don’t yet know the extent to which cobots will help transform the delivery of care, early results are very promising, and I am increasingly confident that we will see them play an important role in supporting our care workforce both now, and in the future.”
The County Council and PA trial of cobots began in February this year, and was quickly adapted in response to the COVID-19 crisis, with further investigation of how they could be used to help manage the challenges faced by care workers and informal carers who are supporting vulnerable people at this time.
The use of a cobot has shown that care for a person with complex needs, which may have previously required two carers working together, can, in some instances, be delivered effectively by a single individual.
Hampshire CC said this not only alleviates some social distancing concerns, but will also help to make the social care system more resilient.
In Hampshire alone, it is estimated that an extra 6,000 people in caring jobs could be needed over the next five years.
Steve Carefull, social care technology expert at PA Consulting, said: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with Hampshire County Council to help them use cobot technology to create a more positive human future for care.
“Now, more than ever is the moment to embrace new technology. Our hope is that cobots could support care workers with the more physically demanding aspects of care, freeing carers up to focus on other aspects of human care or care for another vulnerable person.”
Professor Yoshiyuki Sankai, President and CEO of Cyberdyne, said: “It is exciting to trial our HAL Lumbar type cobot for the first time in the UK with Hampshire County Council. We’re looking forward to uncovering the potential it has to improve the delivery of care for carers and those who need support.”