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Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy New Year from Robotland!

Service robotics for the elderly in the future will only have a chance if the potential users of the service robotics, the elderly, their family and professional care personal will accept these technical aids. This is the conclusion of the German study "My friend the robot" conducted by SIBIS Institute for Social Studies. According to SIBIS there is no empirical evidence today in Germany for the acceptance of robots for the elderly. SIBIS explains the main reason for this result that it is the difficulty to investigate the real benefits of a technical system, that is still under development.

But the findings of this study, based on a relatively small group of elderly, can also be seen as a poor outcome of consumer robotics development in general. The quantitative survey shows that more than half of those surveyed seniors (56%) are spontaneous positive to service robotics in everyday life, while 40% are  negative.  There is high acceptance for vacuum cleaning robots, floor sweepers, robot mowers, automatic window cleaners, shopping and walking assist robots. The risk to be controlled or stigmatized by robots isn't ranked very high.

But only 36% of the elderly are convinced that robots can improve their security and independence. A majority of elderly experience robots as scary (66%) and not very reliable (86%).  Only one of three would accept a humanoid robot helper.  Bad news for those who have invested millions in projects to escape "Uncanny Valley".

European Robotics in the "Death Valley"
Despite more than 10 years of heavy public and private funding of robot research and development Europe has lost ground in consumer robotics. European service robotics i still fighting to escape "Death Valley" between research and marketing. The SIBIS study should worry research bureaucrats, EC-funders and private investors when reading about lack of plausibility of the personal benefits, skepticism about the functioning of the systems, complicated operating procedures, fear that robots were ultimately unable to be controlled by the user and risks of third-party monitoring.

There seems to be a wide gap between academia, industry and consumers. Servers are filled with thousands of robotics papers, robot labs with hundreds of robotic prototypes, while the department stores and online shops are filled with low quality domestic and toy robots from China.

Robots as Life Style for Everyone
Consumers have no problems accepting service robots when they support personal autonomy , mobility, orientation, independence, protection of privacy. If people have to decide to continue living after an accident with the assistance of a robot at home or to move into a nursing home, the vast majority of respondents would prefer a robot at home. The problem is the lack of useful, reliable and affordable robots not only for the elderly but even for young people.
More fantasy, creativity and co-creation is needed to develop a viable service robot industry that is fun for all. 2012 will be a critical year for many robotic companies, might only the most creative and viable survive.
Happy New Year from Robotland! 

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