A PhD student is exploring how robots offer comfort to care home residents – and investigating whether they can be made affordable for small budgets.
As part of a project that promotes the use of technology to enhance quality of care – and supports eHealth business development in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly – Hannah Bradwell from the University of Plymouth has visited care homes throughout Cornwall with Paro the seal, a Japanese designed robot seal that moves and responds to touch.
The product is the most thoroughly researched of its kind and designed as a comfort for people in care homes, particularly those with dementia, but it costs over £5,000. So Hannah is investigating what residents like about Paro and comparing this engagement with other interactive robots to assess whether more affordable and equally effective alternatives can be designed.
The robots she is using for the research are provided by the three-year project eHealth and Productivity in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (EPIC), which is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
“Paro the seal is really well researched, with published studies suggesting that benefits include reduced agitation and reduced depression – similar to the benefits of interacting with a live animal. The advantage of course with robots is the removal of allergy issues, hygiene concerns and the risks of bites or scratches. But a challenge with products such as Paro is the price. We recognise that he’s unobtainable for most care homes in Cornwall, so we are investigating whether robots with a much smaller price tag could bring about the same or similar benefits.”
Alongside Paro, Hannah has a ‘zoo’ of animals, including a dinosaur, cat and two dogs – all made of different materials with differing levels of interaction.
“My research involves work with care home staff, residents and their relatives to see what they prefer in a companion robot and which features are important. The feedback has been very positive with care providers seeing the benefits – in some cases they have invested in robots for their use so we are already bringing about positive benefits.
As part of the EPIC project’s aim to develop eHealth businesses in Cornwall a local Cornish company called Robotriks is using some of the insights gathered, alongside its technical expertise, to inform its design of a new companion robot right here in Cornwall.”
In addition to the benefits of collaborating with Hannah and using her research findings Robotriks will be supported to develop the solution with a grant from the EPIC project.
Launched in 2017, EPIC is aiming to identify challenges faced in health and social care throughout Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, and support Cornish businesses to tackle these challenges with EHealth technology solutions through a £600,000 challenge fund.