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Japanese wrinklies spurn robot helpers

Might yet go for obedient droid butlers, though

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

One of the main drivers of the Japanese - and hence the world's - robotics industry is the increasingly elderly population in the land of the Rising Sun.

In order that workers of the future needn't all be tied up caring for the oldsters, the Japanese government is funding research targeted at medical and geriatric-care automation.

As a result, we've seen walker exoskeletons that might replace Zimmer frames, robo-spoons able to feed people without help, and various other notions.

But now, a Reuters report suggests that the current generation of Nipponese seniors don't much care for a technological theme to their sunset years. It seems the curmudgeonly old-timers have cold-shouldered their would-be robot pals.

"Ifbot, the resident robot at a Japanese nursing home, can converse, sing, express emotions, and give trivia quizzes to seniors to help with their mental agility. Yet the pale-green gizmo has spent much of the past two years languishing in a corner alone," according to the wire-service scribes.

Of course, this isn't a sign that the old folks don't like robots. A lot of us might avoid a dwarvish pale green bore which kept singing at us and asking trivia questions.

Apparently, an even less popular wrinkly-minder droid was "Hopis, a furry pink dog-like robot capable of monitoring blood sugar, blood pressure and body temperature".

Hmm - no surprises there, really. Having medical probes thrust into one's orifices is bad enough without furry pink dog involvement.

The theme of the Reuters analysis is that these old folks just aren't going to warm to robots and that's that.

"Most (elderly) people are not interested in robots... They want to be able to get around their house, take a bath, get to the toilet and that's about it," according to Ruth Campbell, a geriatric social worker at the University of Tokyo.

"They just want simpler phones and tools," said Dr Kanao Tsuji, a geriatrician working for a home-visit provider.

On the other hand, it could be that the sensible old gentlemen and women of Japan simply don't like trivia quizzes, singsongs, cold thermometers, and furry dogs. We don't like any of that either; but we'd say yes to a robot butler that just brought the blasted drinks and didn't sing at us or try to have an autistic Q&A conversation.

And frankly, when the dark day comes and we need a bit of help in the bathroom, we'd so much prefer some nice reliable machinery to a spotty hormonal teenager on minimum wage. Or some remorselessly efficient certificated nursey who'd probably find our secret stash of (by then) illegal baccy or gin.

It just might be that Reuters is jumping the gun a tad on this one. ®

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