The Government has highlighted the potential to build ‘care robots’ as part of a £34 million investment in research on autonomous systems.
Science Minister Chris Skidmore made the announcement over the weekend, saying the money from the Strategic Priorities Fund – which supports multidisciplinary research and is delivered through UK Research and Innovation – would be focused on trustworthy autonomous systems and be available over the next five years.
It will support the creation of a national capability through calls for funding open to higher education institutions, public sector research organisations and businesses.
The programme will look at developing reliable autonomous systems across sectors, taking in capabilities such as personal shopper and robots that select mortgages, but the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) emphasised the potential for robots to support adult social care.
It said they could fulfil tasks such as helping an elderly person up after a fall and raising an alarm, delivering food at mealtimes and ensuring they take medication at the correct times.
The department said there had already been support for a UK project developing the prototype Chiron robot to support adults with mobility and age-related impairments.
It also pointed to existing care robots such as PARO, developed by Japanese company AIST, which replicates animal therapy for patients in hospitals and care homes; and Pepper, a humanoid robot able to recognise faces and basic human emotions that could be used in prevention care.
The programme will cover research into the design of such systems, for example in ensuring they are better protected against cyber attacks and can demonstrate qualities such as respect and fairness.
Skidmore said: "It’s vital that we meet the needs of this ageing society, and through cutting edge research like this we will ensure that as technology advances, the UK leads the way in designing and adopting it, growing our status as a global science superpower."
Need for trust
Praminda Caleb-Solly, professor of assistive robotics, Bristol Robotics Laboratory, said: “Assistive robots can provide essential support for those who need help carrying out everyday tasks - so they can maintain their independence for as long as possible. But making sure we can trust these robots by reducing the risks associated with this technology is essential.
“Unlocking their full potential means they could assist with anything from physiotherapy, to assistance for older people with mobility issues, improving people’s quality of life significantly.”
BEIS also pointed to the technology’s potential in supporting self-driving vehicles.