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Can Robots Be Care Givers

Can robots take on physical tasks with care and dignity, freeing human caregivers to provide deeper emotional support and presence.

Photo of Melinda Roenisch
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Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine the end-of-life experience?

End of life caregivers face a very difficult, consuming task. There are many physical needs from changing diapers, to feeding, to monitoring - all crucial. But equally as important is the emotional role this person can play. I am interested in the role that robots could have in the administration of physical care, so the caregiver could be more free to provide rich emotional support in terms of love, identity and connectedness.

At first, it might seem counter intuitive. That the addition of robots to physical level care could increase the emotional level of care, too. But with advances in robotics, is it possible that robots could be designed to assist with many of the important physical tasks that a dying person needs in a respectful, personable, and caring way - with the goal being exactly not to replace the human touch, but rather, allow human caregivers to be present more wholly and emotionally with those they care for. The physical tasks can be exhausting. Robots could be a way to relieve the human caregiver of such tasks and free them more to do what humans are truly designed to do - offer emotional contact. Love. Attentiveness. A human caregiver's skills and training are still absolutely necessary.  But is it possible that some of the burden of the ongoing and demanding, crucial tasks of the physical can be transferred to a robot? With evolving voice technology, the cared for person can have a level of control in interacting with it, with the goal of feeling less helpless. Perhaps even develop a rapport. And now, the human caregiver can be more fully focused on the incredibly important emotional support. In addition, given the extraordinary costs of end of life care, it's possible robots taking on such a role can also reduce the financial burdens faced in providing complete physical and emotional care for a person. So a wider range of people could have this kind of comprehensive care. Because it would come within what they could financially bear.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

I think people need to be exposed to the idea of robots playing a role in caregiving of this intimate nature, and an understanding of how this increases the possibility of emotional support. It can be managed in a very human, caring way. Instead of being dehumanizing, this has the potential to free up human care givers to be more present. Crafting a way to share this and foster conversation around this is the first step. Carefully beginning to define the role of robot vs human is also needed.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Creating a way to think about the potential of the idea. How do we redefine what "care giving" is in a broader sense? More clearly define the physical versus the emotional roles, both extraordinarily important. In addition, assistance with the technical side of what a caregiver robot would require in execution, and how it could be built.

Tell us about your work experience:

I am a concepter/writer. This idea began when I took my aging dad across country to see his best friend go 65 years. I was responsible for all of his physical care. It was harder than I could've imagined. It spotlit the importance of physical versus emotional care, and how caregivers need support.

This idea emerged from

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Photo of Marea Saldarriaga
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Oh I wish I could write like you. Congratulations @MelinaRoenisch When I first saw the title I was skeptic about your hypothesis, but after reading the post I see that it is a great idea to allocate the errands to a robot in order to maximize the valuable time of the caregiver. Please read my post as it is quite related and would love your feedback. https://challenges.openideo.com/challenge/end-of-life/ideas/end-of-life-training-seminars