Open research “Welfare Robots and the Future of Care”

The open research “Welfare Robots and the Future of Care” was held at the Graduate School of Policy Science on the 18th of January 2024. The relationship between innovative technology and care has long been a focus of policy debate and R&D collaboration not only in academia, but also in government, industry, and health and social care professionals. As the recent pandemic has called into question the welfare state and social policies of the past, the importance of enabling technologies that allow people to perform daily life and various tasks in a non-contact manner is attracting even greater attention. On the other hand, there are still issues regarding the introduction of assistive technology into the medical and nursing care fields, such as privacy and safety concerns, as well as whether it reflects the preferences and needs of the users, including professionals.


Naonori Kodate, Associate Professor in Social Policy & Social Robotics from University College Dublin (UCD), was invited to bring a lecture. The lecture includes three parts, the introduction of Prof. Kodate’s research history and current field, UCD, and the basic information of Ireland, the characteristics of Irish social policy, and examples of welfare robots and the future of care. 


In the first part, Prof. Kodate introduced his research field about 1) (macro level) the diverse social policies of welfare from different countries and the factors behind them 2) (micro level) the solution of the mismatch in medical and nursing care policy implementation. Besides, he also introduced UCD and research collaborations in a variety of disciplines between Ireland and Japan.


In the second part, the discussion mainly focused on the social policies and the differences of the similar policies implemented in Ireland and the U.K. Similar to Japan, Ireland puts an emphasis on self-help and mutual help, which is different from the concept of ‘welfare state’ in Nordic countries. Though influenced by Britain, medical and welfare system of Ireland has its own unique features. Different from National Health Service (NHS) in Britain, Health Service Executive (HSE) in Ireland manages the general tax revenue for the public sector, which mainly focuses on the low-income family and older people while (most) patients should cover the expenditure of family doctor on their own. Besides, approximately half of the citizens from middle-income or high-income households choose to have a private medical insurance that reimburses the cost in the private hospital.


In the final part, Prof. Kodate shared the cases of care robots in different countries and discussed the incoming challenges and expectation of the welfare robots in the future. The research results showed different rankings of the most influential factors in decision-making of using a care robot. In Japan, the safety of care robots is the primary factor influencing the using of the robots. However, in Ireland and Finland, the right of human social interaction under the use of care robots ranks 1st among all the factors. During the lecture, Prof. Kodate showed a 10-minute meeting recording of his three-year research project “Harmonization towards the establishment of person-centered, Robotics-aided care System” (funded by the Toyota Foundation). Besides, Prof. Kodate introduced two examples of care robots in Ireland. Mylo, a care robot designed for patients with dementia, plays a role in sending notification, monitoring heart rate, and abuse prevention. V-Air, another caring robot, solves the problem of indoor air circulation. Both robots achieve a temporary success in the plot test period. In the end, Prof. Kodate concluded that a bright future lies ahead for Ireland, a young country with a growing population to utilize technology in medical and nursing care. However, there are still obstacles and challenges for the expansion of the utilization of welfare robots in practice for various reasons.




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