UK Researchers Trial Robots to Ease Social Care Burden During COVID-19 Pandemic

Pepper’s skill set includes making phone calls, identifying missing items in the kitchen and occasional aerobics instruction.

Now, after a surge in loneliness among vulnerable groups during the coronavirus pandemic, this robot’s potential as a companion have earned her a role in a Scottish university’s assisted living experiment with artificial intelligence.

Scientists at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have programmed robots, including Pepper — who was launched as the world’s first humanoid in Japan in 2014 — to perform tasks normally carried out by care workers.

“We are specifically interested in understanding the needs of the most vulnerable at this time and what technology could be used to make their lives better,” Mauro Dragone, the project’s lead scientist, told AFP.

“Successful innovation in the field is crucial to alleviate the strain on health and social care services.”

The experiment, named Ambient Assisted Living, will initially focus on finding solutions for priority groups, whose vulnerabilities have been compounded by social isolation measures required during the pandemic.

For the research, Pepper and other robots have been put to work in a university laboratory configured to resemble a standard apartment, with a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and living room.

Privacy concerns

By using robots

How IT can prepare for the coming hybrid work environment

Remote work is here to stay. Planning how to integrate remote workers as others return to the office will be critical for tech leaders.

Image: iStock/Anna Chaplygina

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, remote work seemed a temporary and novel approach to keeping productive, and I was among the many people who thought it would be a couple or three-week experiment. As the pandemic wore on and many companies embraced remote working, I heard sentiments like, “We’ll never go back to the old way of working,” a feeling that was particularly resonant among many of my colleagues, for whom the “old way” involved a dozen hours each week shuffling through overcrowded airports and cramped airplanes.

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A funny thing happened shortly after several promising COVID-19 vaccines were announced and ultimately began to be administered around the world, whereby people seemed more or less equally divided among those who wanted to return to the old way of working, and those who were content to continue working remotely. There are certainly nuances between industries and demographic factors, but even along these lines I have yet to see an overwhelming majority of workers who want to return to in-office