Are Companion Robots The Answer To Pandemic Loneliness?

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The reason science is called the future of the world is because what we can’t see now, science predicts it and shows us the path to.

It is very recent that the whole world got affected by the widely spreading Coronavirus and was forced to stay at home indefinitely.

Offices got shut, there were no parties; even families could not unite because of the social distancing implications around the globe.

What Are The Negative Impacts Of Loneliness?

In 2020, a report was issued by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, stating that social isolation and loneliness result in an increased risk of premature death. It was also observed that both factors contribute to psychological, cognitive, and physical morbidities in humans.

In a study, it has been found that older people, who are socially isolated, experience deterioration of memory, physical well-being, and mental health compared to those living with someone.

In the United States, eight out of ten people who died due to COVID-19 were sixty-five and older. It has been observed that there would be many such risks in the environment, and older people would be prone to it more than anyone else.

Why Do We Need Companion/Social Robots?

Now, let us say you are a youngster studying abroad or working in the other corner of the country and you could not visit your old parents who got stuck at home and do not have anyone to take care of them even now. How would you feel? What would you do? It was a helpless situation for many families, but some of them were relieved- thanks to technology.

A long time before something like Covid-19 hit the world, science had established a need for robots to serve as companions for those who stay alone or do not have anyone to take care of them.

There has been a high demand for robotic pets around the world since 2020. Association of Aging in New York provided these devices to around a thousand senior citizens. Florida Department of Elder Affairs gave these social companions to 375 people. Other than that, senior service departments of other states have also been purchasing social robots and distributing them among those in need.

These robots come in different shapes and sizes. For example, some can be in the shape of a dog, and some can be more humanized. However, the idea of any such robot is to stay connected with humans and give them human comfort.

More than just the human presence and sense of companionship, these robots are also designed to perform basic tasks like helping senior citizens with their food, picking up things from one place to organizing them properly. For example, people who use wheelchairs can also get help from robots to pick them up from the bed and help them get in a wheelchair.

What Are The Advantages Of Having a Companion/Social Robot?

Do Not Get Tired

Being a human can be challenging because we possess such capacities as to feel, think, and work. On the other hand, robots are mechanical devices that can go way beyond human caliber when performing specific tasks.

For example, if you are looking for a caretaker for an old parent, you might feel that a robot would lack compassion and personal touch. However, what you are not thinking is that a robot can never get impatient or frustrated.

Moreover, it would never miss out on any medication or mealtime too.

Perfect For Times Like These

When the world is suffering from a pandemic on one end and loneliness on the other, a social robot is a key to social distance with care intact. So, if you have someone who needs care during a time like this, you should be assured that a robot cannot transfer any virus to your loved ones.

Good Companion

Social robots are more than just robots who would monitor the proper functioning of an elderly or someone who is ill. People can also use them for communicating to not feel lonely and have someone to talk to.

Trained Pets

There are times when people want to have a pet, but it is not possible for them to have one because their situations do not allow them to train a pet. That’s where they assume that a naughty pet would make things worse and decide against having it. If you are one of those, then having social robots can be your answer. As social robots also come in the form of dogs and cats, they serve as excellent pets to be around when no one else is.

Now that we know the disadvantages of loneliness and why we need social robots, let us look at some social robots making their way into many homes and care homes.

Here are some companion/social robots you should know about:

●    Paro

Looking like a baby harp seal, Paro is a medical device that can reduce loneliness, depression, and agitation in humans. An adorable, playful device from Japan, Paro has a feature to coo and wiggle, and blink when you hold it.

●    Pepper

It is a small humanoid robot that makes eye contact and also cracks jokes. This robot is serving at the receptions of two leading Belgian hospitals. Other than that, over 140 SoftBank Mobile stores in Japan use Pepper to communicate with the customers coming to their stores.

●    SAM

The jolly little device combines technology and human touch and offers frequent check-ins and non-medical care for residents in long-term care setups. This reduces the money you spend on care and makes the elderly happy by just being there for them.

●    Buddy

This French robot is seen in a lot of households these days. You can use it for the security of the home. It also acts as an assistant that sets reminders and alarms for you.

On the human side, it also expresses many human emotions like excitement, anger, or sadness!

●    Roberto

Majorly used in hospitals, this teddy bear, like a robot, helps lift patients and put them in a wheelchair.

Here is a short video by Yale University regarding social robots.

What Can Be The Disadvantages Of Having a Companion/Social Robot?

Amid countless advantages of having a social robot around you, science has found some disadvantages too. For instance, it has been found that replacing the human touch in an older adult’s life with that of a robot can also be bad for their mental health.

Human contact is said to be a necessary thing for anyone and everyone. However, if everyone has access to a social robot in a care center, do you think their families would visit them for even half the number of times they usually do?

There might be an emotional disconnect in some older adults. So, according to some researchers, it is better to have human contact than a robot.

Here is an article listing some challenges you can face with social robots. 

However, what can one do if there is no option due to the troubling circumstances that they might face, such as a pandemic? Science says robots cannot fully replace human existence, but they are a solution to cure loneliness and help humans get through social isolation. Hence, it is better to have a social robot than nothing at all.

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