There are around 600 million elderly people in the world today, but this number is expected to double by 2030. However, the shortage of caregivers will also significantly increase. The idea of having a robot in every home may be far off, but robots are slowly becoming more common in nursing homes.
The United Nations estimates that the worldwide over-65 population will increase by 181% while the 15 to 65 populace will increase only 33% by 2050. This means that the world will lose the money and manpower to deal with this enormous demographic change. One proposed solution to this problem is the use of robotic caregivers. Japan has been pushing for this concept for a while now. In fact, the Japanese government invested millions in eldercare robotics development. The past couple of years saw eldercare robotics development growing cheaper and more conventional. Products with better consumer acceptance and functionality were introduced as well.
The concept also has started to gain the interest of companies in other countries, showing an increasing surge of support and acceptance to the idea of being taken care of by robots. The early stages of robotics development were faced with worry and skepticism. Some of the earliest robots seemed like overvalued Furbies or were just simple variants of existing technologies that allowed patients to communicate with loved ones and doctors. Some companies, however, continued their research and successfully developed robots that can do much more than the earliest variations. They were able to develop robots that could dance and play games with the elderly.
Aside from companion robots, new machines with the potential to lessen the physical strains of taking care of the elderly have been developed as well over the past years. One example of this is Robear, a robotic bear-shaped nurse developed by the Riken Institute and Sumitomo Riko Company that can smoothly lift a patient of up to 176 lbs and carry them around.
Foreign companies were inspired by the development of such technologies in Japan. Carnegie Mellon University and European Union are only some of those that are investing money in the development of robotic companions, nurses and monitors for the elderly people. Some of these companies have started to realize that robots are now accepted and necessary, but some of them also understand how lucrative this market could be.
Japanese robots look more humanoid and advanced than Western robots but as research continues, this industry will most likely enjoy a significant development in the future. As the robots improve, the acceptance of these facilities in nursing homes and other care and treatment facilities for the elderly will increase as well. Caregivers seem to have already accepted the concept of robots taking care of the elderly as such technologies can give the elderly the level of mobility and attention they need. Robots can also make elderly care affordable and sustainable.