Many readers probably already know about Denmark's most popular robot: Geminoid-DK. The bot was created by Henrik Scharfe, a professor at Aalborg University, in his own image and, in part, to explore the boundaries between robots and humans.
What our readers may not be as familiar with is the field of “welfare technology.” The term was actually coined in Denmark, where scientists are exploring how to use robots and other technology to assist in the care of elderly and disabled citizens. (After all, the researchers creating these amazing robots have to put them to use eventually, right?)
As The Globe and Mail reports, welfare technology could solve a growing problem in Denmark, and around the world:
Like many European countries, Denmark is grappling with the mounting cost of providing generous tax-funded hospital and elder care to an aging population. At the same time, it is anticipating a significant shortage of labor. More than 38 percent of employees in the elder care sector alone are over 50 years old and will retire in the next 10 to 15 years, according to one study.
“There is a great increase in the elderly and the number of people with chronic diseases,” said Nina Husfeldt Clasen of Denmark’s Office for Welfare Technology. “If we don’t do something drastic we won’t be able to provide the care to the elderly and sick people that they expect.”
To that end, Denmark threw $519 million at the welfare technology idea in 2006. Since then, researchers there have tried a little of everything, including robotic pet seals that comfort dementia patients, devices to enable Danes to monitor their chronic illnesses at home and, most recently, a washing tunnel to assist in the bathing of patients.
So far, most of the early interest in these devices has come from, not surprisingly, Japan:
Japan ... dwarfs Denmark in both its comfort level with robots and the severity of its demographic challenges. Japan’s Cyberdyne wants to test an “exoskeleton suit” in Denmark that will help disabled people walk. Panasonic is testing a bed with a built-in wheelchair, and Tmsuk, another robotics firm, plans to develop Roberior, an elder care robot, in the country.
Check out the TED video above to learn more about Sharfe and see a fascinating demonstration of his "twin" robot.