Service robots in the care sector

Innovative technological solutions for the care sector

When it comes to personal services such as those provided in the care sector, there is increasing scope for innovative technological solutions. Up to now, the technologies employed have been mostly concerned with IT support. But in the “Service robotics for supporting personal services” (SeRoDi) project, researchers are developing service robot solutions that offer physical assistance. Project manager Christian Schiller speaks with project partners Gabriele Blume, Managing Director of Mannheim Nursing Homes for the Elderly, and Ricarda Fredl-Maurer, who is responsible for care sector quality assurance at the University Medical Centre Mannheim.

Have the demographics of Germany’s aging population already become noticeable in the care sector?

Blume: Yes and no. Demographic developments are not the direct cause of the increased strain on the care system. That’s coming from the constantly shrinking financial resources available and the shortage of specialist care workers and staff in general.

Fredl-Maurer: Yes. Increasingly, we are dealing with patients suffering from multiple ailments and dementia, who are being cared for by older and older personnel. Now the proportion of over-50s in nursing care is rising all the time. Overall demand for care staff is growing sharply, which means fewer and fewer carers for more and more people in need of care. This can lead to bottlenecks and a lack of quality in the care provided.

Where do you hope to gain support from the SeRoDi project?

Blume: Thanks to SeRoDi, a driverless transport system will be used to “hand” personnel the items they need, making sure that utensils are available at the right place and the right time. This frees up valuable time that care staff would otherwise spend in “shoe leather logistics” as it were. Care workers can perform their essential duties at the bedside without having to waste time looking for instruments in the storeroom, for example.

Fredl-Maurer: The project helps everyday work in the ward by providing IT and physical support, optimizing logistical processes, automating materials consumption documentation, improving ordering processes and reducing materials administration. The time gained by relieving care staff of these tasks can be channeled into direct patient care.

How have care workers responded to the use of service robotics?

Blume: On the whole, the response has been positive. Every reduction in workload, no matter how small, helps somewhat to alleviate the pressures I mentioned earlier and prevent the gulf between demands and options from widening any further.

Fredl-Maurer: Positively. It’s important to get care workers interested in technical innovations and highlight the advantages of using service robotics. This assuages any fears they might have that person-to-person interactions with patients could be on the way out.

What challenges is the care sector likely to face over the next few years?

Blume: Meeting the aging population’s rising demand for support with constantly diminishing resources. A balancing act that, in my view, cannot work without putting more money into the system while simultaneously cutting care entitlements and accepting lower levels of “quality” than that so extensively demanded and tested at present.

Fredl-Maurer: Care personnel are faced with increasing medical and specialist care requirements as a result of the increase in patients with dementia and multiple ailments. This is very challenging, as is integrating innovative technologies and digitalization into everyday working life at care facilities.