Robotics in Care Services: A Finnish Roadmap

In Finland, as in many other European economies, elderly people prefer to continue their independent living at home as long as possible. To support this trend of “ageing in place” and still preserve the quality of elderly care, robots and other new ICT-technologies will enable innovative help in organizing daily activities.

The public discussion on the use of robots in care is lively. However, the ROSE project (Robots and the future of welfare services) consortium discovered the need of an overview of the opportunities and challenges in the Finnish context, based on available knowledge from Finland and abroad. The purpose of this roadmap is then twofold, to inform the discussion as well as to engage in the debate.

This roadmap is focused on the use of robotics in care and promoting independent living with a focus on the elderly population. Applications on robotics in care are divided into four areas: supporting workforce in care, rehabilitation and prosthetics, personal physical support, and personal cognitive/social support. Medical robots such as robotic surgery are outside the scope of this work.

The main aim of this roadmap is to chart the opportunities of robotics in supporting high-quality elderly care in a 5-10 year perspective. In addition to technological opportunities, the roadmap aims to discover necessary conditions for the adoption of robots, considering both the care service system and individual person level factors. The roadmap is focused on care services in Finland.

To support care workers in healthcare institutions, we foresee opportunities in well-defined tasks such as hospital logistics, patient transfer and administering medication. Telepresence (possibly robotic) will become available. Within rehabilitation and prosthetics, robot assisted therapy and rehabilitation exercises will become available. Robotic prostheses will be used for assisting upper- and lower-body mobility.

In personal assistance, robotic mobility aids will become available. New single purpose domestic robots for purposes such as cleaning and personal hygiene will appear. Social and cognitive assistant robots will support communication between humans and provide information services such as reminders. Robots will also be able to provide some forms of cognitive therapy for example to treat early dementia. General purpose assistive robots are not foreseen in the next 10 years due to immaturity of the technology.

The Finnish business and innovation ecosystem around robotics in care is immature. There is no credible, skilled national operator that could connect care technologies, related services and service users. At present, the business ecosystem is still largely at the birth stage, and the wider innovation ecosystem is immature and essential stakeholders are missing. However, Finland appears to possess good opportunities to build a functioning innovation ecosystem around care robotics, as the well-established Finnish technological and welfare systems form a synergic platform for actors and stakeholders to co-operate, allowing both public and private institutions as well as developers and users to participate in planning of robotic services. In order to reach a cutting edge position in using and producing robotic systems in care services, a systematic and multidisciplinary research, innovation and education program is needed.

Even though there are experimental studies on the effects of robots, the impacts of the adoption of robots in care are currently not well known. Larger scale and longer term pilots in real-life environments that are able to show economic and societal impact widely will be needed.

Integration of technology into care services is challenging from investment and regulation perspectives, among others. The care provision is in change due to the current reform of social and healthcare services in Finland. This creates an opportunity for adoption of new approaches since the change may also facilitate the integration of robots with other care technologies, systems and processes. The reform can also pose challenges for the adoption; this roadmap aims to present multiple points of view for the reform process and discussion around it.

Acceptance of robots in care varies widely depending on the main application. For example, acceptance of support robots for hospital logistics is high, but social companion robots pose significant ethical and social questions. Also in general, the more a person has personal experience of robots the higher the acceptance. Formation of personal experiences should be promoted through pilots and the user studies should be communicated to the general public. Moreover, there should be a systemic and systematic focus on users' role in the adoption of care robots. User needs and their involvement should have a true impact in the different activities of the innovation and business ecosystem.

Robotics in Care Services: A Finnish Roadmap, 2017.



Consortium leader

Ville Kyrki

Project manager

Timo Brander