Portuguese and Spanish researchers in the field of social robotics are working on the use of robots to interact with children who are hospitalized for the treatment of cancer, thereby providing emotional support.
The researchers are keen to take robots out of the laboratory and place them in a real environment. Until now, most of the research on social robotics has taken place in very controlled environments. As Professor Salichs from UC3M points out, 'The introduction of a group of autonomous social robots into surroundings with these characteristics is something new, and we hope that the project will help us to advance in the development of robots that are able to relate to people in complex situations and scenarios.'
Another cause for guarded optimism about health care robotics? My hope is that it will augment the efforts of often overworked staff and allow them to better prioritize the focus of their precious attention and energy. In addition to their potential social value, robots could act as in situ surveillance devices to watch for nascent or emergent health crises. My fear is that they will be used as justification for cutting costs through staff reductions, as self-checkout lanes have done in supermarkets.