This is a guest blog post written by Jorge Dias, GrowMeUp project coordinator, on behalf of the project team.
We started with a goal which still holds true today: to provide a robotic platform that can help the ageing population in their daily lives. But guess what? During this challenging period, seniors, who we aim to assist in the first place, decided that they can be of help to the robots. In their own and knowledgeable way, they taught us the need to think out of the box.
It happened during the second year, when we presented the GrowMeUp robot to a group of seniors and put both to the test. Was the technology ready? How about the seniors? Were they ready? It turns out they were. Moreover, they got involved and started coming up with suggestions, improvements, things that needed to be changed. We were of course thrilled and did our best to meet their needs. We went back to the labs, re-designed, re-developed, re-tested and returned with an improved system for a much more positive reaction.
During this enriching cycle, the seniors we worked with taught us a valuable lesson: Robots can help them, but they can also help to develop better robots. This way, technology research and development cycle can surely accommodate the elderly, and they do feel included, needed and useful.
Make no mistake: Seniors, more than being a challenge, want to be part of the solution.
However, there is still a lot to do, technically and beyond when it comes to social robots autonomously wandering around in people’s homes. The people who tested the robots were left with such a positive feeling that they started wondering what will happen after the project. They asked if they could take the robots with them!
Well, this is where we begin to stutter. They do understand the technical limitations at this point and they are able to cope with them. But how can we explain that barriers, like legislation, still prevent them to take their new technological friend home?
The European Commission and the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing have been working on ideas and solutions to address challenges like standardisation, legislation, certification…
We hope we can swiftly progress on these matters, because robots are knocking on society’s door to enter.
It has been a challenging journey, but equally rewarding. We have identified our strengths, our limitations and we will work determinedly to bring social robots closer to society.
This is our job and our passion. Once you reach out to seniors, once you see the happiness on their faces when their opinions are heard, it becomes a compelling need to bring society closer to robots.
I think… I just think... that perhaps technology, more than empowering us in our lives, can bring us all together after all.
Our project was featured on Euronews, in their Futuris programme. You can watch it on their website.