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Social Care Robot Challenge launched for UK Robotics Week

12 January 2017

A new Social Care Robot Challenge is being launched for the UK Robotics Week 2017, a national week of celebration taking place from 24–30 June 2017.

The new Social Care Robot Challenge is a national co-operative venture that will bring together UK experts from both academia and industry to advance the integration of robots into healthcare – including services designed to support older people and those living with long-term health conditions. The Challenge runs from now, and will culminate in a daylong public presentation of collaborative learnings in Central London on Friday June 30, 2017, during UK Robotics Week itself. 

The Challenge projects, which are open to all leading researchers and institutions in the field, will explore robotics innovations to address the steeply rising costs of healthcare provision in the UK, and robotics technology to aid health professionals in providing improved physical and cognitive deficit support. The collaborative research themes will be agreed via themed workshops to be held during Spring 2017, addressing issues including assisted mobility; personal hygiene; social support; preventative and rehabilitation monitoring; remote assistance; and food preparation. Robot social cognition capabilities that will be pushed forward during the Challenge include social and physical intelligence, spoken language understanding and immersive tele-presence.

The Challenge research will harness established robot platforms including Nao, Pepper, Fetch, TIAGo, iCub and MiRo, and prototype robots will be evaluated in realistic, home-like environments.

Professor Guang-Zhong Yang PhD, FREng, Director and Co-founder of the Hamlyn Centre for Robotic Surgery at Imperial College London and Chair of the EPSRC UK-RAS Network comments: “Assistive robots designed to support independent living will need to work safely with and alongside people, requiring advances in multiple scientific and engineering domains, including artificial intelligence, mechatronics, materials, sensing, and human-robot interaction.” He added: “By providing a framework for institutions to pool knowledge and resolve some of the key questions around social cognition in care robotics, this new Challenge promises to deliver an exciting step forward in our ability to build robots that can work effectively to support independent living and improve healthcare services for the future.”

Delivering care for an ageing population poses significant economic challenges nationally. 65 percent of the UK’s Department of Work and Pensions benefit expenditure currently goes to those over working age, equivalent to one-seventh of public spending. The incidence of moderate to severe disability increases rapidly with age, from around 1 percent of those of working age to 50 percent of those over 85. It has been forecasted that the annual UK public expenditure on long-term care will increase from £11.3bn to £31.1bn by 2032, with private expenditure due to rise from £7.3bn to £22.4bn in the same period. The UK also has a shortage of skilled nurses and residential care workers, expected to worsen as the number of jobs in care increases by up to 1M by 2025.

The Social Care Challenge 2017 will be a distributed activity held across the ‘living laboratory’ facilities that exist across the EPSRC UK Robotics and Autonomous Systems (UK-RAS) Network community. Participating partners without such facilities will be encouraged to take part by arranging access. Organisations that are not already part of the EPSRC UK-RAS Network community, but have suitable facilities or track record, are also encouraged to take part.

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