PA helps Hampshire County Council launch caretaking robots

06 August 2020 4 min. read
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The PA Consulting-led Argenti Care Technology Partnership collaborating with Hampshire County Council to launch the first-ever collaborative robots in the UK care sector. Nicknamed ‘cobots’, the machines are robotic exoskeletons which will enable workers to carry out arduous manual care tasks more easily.

In America and other aging societies around the world, it has become common for the elderly to be cared for by their ageing children or older workers. That’s largely because the younger labour force is shrinking, and few want to do such low-paying, back-aching work. At the same time, Japan – like many nations – remains reluctant to allow immigrants to enter the country, in order to fill out these roles. At present, this reluctance to accept outsiders means only 1.5% of Japan’s population is made up of immigrants.

Whether or not this attitude shifts, jobs in care need filling – especially as more and more members of the ageing population need help with their daily lives. With political change slow at best, many robotics developers have stepped in to fill this void by deploying robotics to assist older workers with care activities, in lieu of younger people being able to join the workforce. One such firm is Cyberdyne, a Japanese technology company most noted for the marketing and distribution of the HAL robotic exoskeleton suit.

PA helps Hampshire County Council launch caretaking robots

Cyberdyne’s suits have received regulatory approval in Japan, the European Union and the United States for use in treating certain medical conditions, such as strokes and spinal cord injuries. As a result, Cyberdyne’s famous technology looks set to debut in the UK care sector, thanks to an innovative project on behalf of Hampshire County Council. Led by Argenti Care Technology Partnership – a subsidiary of PA Consulting – the initiative will see  the trialling and launching of HAL Lumbar type cobots, in a bid to support the ageing workforce of the UK’s care sector.

Councillor Liz Fairhurst, the County Council’s Executive Member for Adult Social Care and Health, said, “Through our partnership with PA Consulting, we are proud to be at the forefront of using technology in care to assist people to live as independently as possible. Our trial of cobots is all about our carers-kit which supports them and makes their job easier. While we don’t yet know the extent to which cobots will help transform the delivery of care, early results are very promising, and I am increasingly confident that we will see them play an important role in supporting our care workforce both now, and in the future.”

Already in use in Japan, cobots are worn around the lower back, working to actively support carers in moving objects or supporting people. Using electrodes, cobots can also detect electrical signals between the wearer’s brain and their muscles and convert this into motion. The County Council’s trial of cobots began in February this year, and was quickly adapted in response to the Covid-19 crisis, with further investigation of how they could be used to help manage the challenges faced by care workers and informal carers who are supporting vulnerable people.

Steve Carefull, social care technology expert at PA Consulting, commented, “We are delighted to be working in partnership with Hampshire County Council to help them use cobot technology to create a more positive human future for care. Now, more than ever is the moment to embrace new technology. Our hope is that cobots could support care workers with the more physically demanding aspects of care, freeing carers up to focus on other aspects of human care or care for another vulnerable person.”

In Hampshire alone, it is estimated that an extra 6,000 people in caring jobs could be needed over the next five years. The use of a cobot represents a major opportunity to help fill such vacancies then, as testing suggests that care for a person with complex needs which may have previously required two carers working together, can, in some instances, be delivered effectively by a single individual. This not only alleviates some social distancing concerns but will also help to make the social care system more resilient.

Professor Yoshiyuki Sankai, President and CEO of Cyberdyne, remarked, “It is exciting to trial our HAL Lumbar type cobot for the first time in the UK with Hampshire County Council. We’re looking forward to uncovering the potential it has to improve the delivery of care for carers and those who need support.”