back to article Your kids will be glad a UK government-funded robot will be changing your nappy and not them

A nightmarish vision of our future dotage awaits: government-built "care robots". The potential was outlined as part of a £34m investment in research on autonomous systems, announced by the UK's Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) today. With one in seven Brits now expected to be over 75 by 2040, it …

  1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    I can sense a BOFH episode in the making...

    1. deive

      The antics of retired BOFH :-)

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        First World Robots! I mean problems!

        So the BBC-

        Pigs in blankets and other festive meal treats might be in short supply this Christmas, the British Meat Processors Association has warned.


        Its chief executive, Nick Allen, told the BBC that wrapping cocktail sausages in bacon was done by hand.

        He said the job was "fiddly and hard to mechanise".

        (but entirely possible** when drunk..)

        It said that if the shortage of workers continued post-Brexit, it would "pose a risk to the affordability of British food".

        Cancel Christmas and sharpen the spoons!

        Now, this isn't a suggestion that we invent a robot that can automatically wrap an OAP in bacon. But one has to start somewhere, like with a sausage***. Which is a suitably BOFHish endeavour, especially if it involves free funding, sausages and bacon.

        * We have perhaps reached peak stupid if 21st Century humans have lost the ability to wrap bacon around a sausage themselves. Or just cook sausage and bacon rolls. The real crisis with bacon comes as African Swine Flu spreads.

        ** Mostly possible, but then in that state, mostly cooked sausage & bacon is good enough..

        ***No, I don't mean that either, and yes, I may have been drinking..

  2. Blockchain commentard

    Robocarer - "You look sad today Phil, would you like me to smother you with a pillow?" - no thanks, I'll take my chances with a Eastern European with no traceable qualifications and minimum understanding of English.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Oh someone switched this to evil, thats why it has killed 7 old folks.

      And who will go to jail for this?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Roujin-Z, then?

    2. spold Silver badge

      ....would you like to die the natural way or the Huawei?

      (sorry Huawei)

    3. spold Silver badge

      ... they will give you a happier ending....

    4. macjules Silver badge

      No joke for some of us with Alzheimers-stricken relatives. A robot might be useful as it would have unlimited patience for the “what’s my name again and who are you?” questions.

      There is actually quite a good movie made some years ago about exactly this, Robot & Frank I think.

      1. Robert Helpmann??
        Thumb Up

        @macjules, have an upvote for the Robot & Frank reference. Excellent movie. Good actors, good writing, good story, pretty much all effects (practical and otherwise) contributed to the story. My comment when I watched it was that it was apt to be too much on the nose for comfort.

  3. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    I feel sure

    That Dr Asimov has already addressed the necessary coding issues for robots, no?

  4. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "make robots better protected against cyber-attacks"

    How about not putting in a WiFi or BluTooth antenna ? That will already do wonders to protect them.

    Because if you're expecting connected robots with a robust firewall and efficient intrusion detection, well let me just say that, post-Brexit, it would appear there won't be much competence available to write that kind of code.

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: "make robots better protected against cyber-attacks"

      Are you're saying after brexit all the programmers working in chinese based robot factories will change jobs?

      1. Wicked Witch

        Re: "make robots better protected against cyber-attacks"

        And all the Japanese companies already working on this problem for much the same reason but with a 10+ year head start will just vanish.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: "make robots better protected against cyber-attacks"

      Cyber attacks are one thing but a cranky person with cane might be able to destroy one.

    3. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: "make robots better protected against cyber-attacks"

      Presumably the robot needs to be able to call for help if it encounters something it can't cope with on its own?

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: "make robots better protected against cyber-attacks"

        Like a jewellery heist?

  5. tiggity Silver badge


    A tad similar to Charon (mythological ferry man who took the dead over the river Styx to Hades)

    Deliberate poor taste on choice of name?

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: CHIRON

      Chiron was the centaur who tutored Herakles.

      1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese

        Re: CHIRON

        I'll take your word for that - it's all Greek to me

  6. Adair Silver badge

    Immoral fuckers!

    The people who think this is somehow a 'good' idea.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Immoral fuckers!

      I must be an immoral fucker then. Either that or you've never seen inside, much less worked in an care home. Robots that could gently lift a patient and then walk them slowly and safely to the loo / bathroom / bedroom / dining room would be an immense help and cut falls drastically. (And since all falls require an ambulance to be called, it saves the NHS a ton of money as well.)

      1. Adair Silver badge

        Re: Immoral fuckers!

        Sorry, but bollocks. I've actually had, and continue to have, a lot of contact with frail and I'll elderly people - mostly now in hospital, but in care homes in past years. So, wrong assumption.

        There's one thing, and one thing only, that this is all about: MONEY.

        It I'd evidence of the lazy, self-centered ness and greed which drives too many of us.

        Caring for each other, especially the frail and ill, is probably the highest human activity; and we pay little more than slave wages for people, often foreigners (good on them, and shame on us), to do this incredibly important and honourable work.

        Robots will never have the empathy, sensitivity and compassion of a human being. It is a disgrace that we even consider absenting human contact and replacing it with a mere mechanism, as if that is anything but a poverty stricken and immoral substitute.

        1. Adair Silver badge

          Re: Immoral fuckers!

          BTW, I've no problem at all with mechanical aids being available as adjuncts/extensions to human care, but as a substitute? No!

          If we haven't the guts, compassion or humility to properly care for each other, especially when ill, infirm, etc. then we really have lost the plot. Personally and as a society. If we sink that low we will deserve all the consequences that come to us.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Immoral fuckers!

            > BTW, I've no problem at all with mechanical aids being available as adjuncts/extensions to human care, but as a substitute? No!

            As the IF AC above I assumed that robots able to do anything significant on their own without humans present are so far in the future that it wasn't worth considering. My response was entirely around robots that help carers with the heavy, awkward work under supervision. These are still 10 years away from being available; 20 years away from being common.

            There are more specific use-cases that could come sooner: a robot dog that allowed a dementia patient who is otherwise healthy to go for a walk but then lead them back at meal times, or before it gets dark would be feasible sooner.

            Personally, I welcome the idea of a robot helping me because I don't want to burden someone else. That doesn't mean I don't want any contact with humans - just a delay before the indignities of old age become totally unavoidable.

        2. cdrcat

          Re: Immoral fuckers!

          Your nirvana works for the wealthy (can pay for X people to help them) or it works for a population that doesn't require much help (1 hour of personal help for every 24 of life).

          Once a population needs significant help (40 hours per week per week of life) then there is simply not *enough* people to do the "humane" thing.

          Even worse, some of the carers are doing shitty inhumane work (lifting the elderly but damaging themselves; elderly looking after the elderly but unwillingly).

          We should offload as much of the drudgery as possible and keep our elderly as *independent* as they wish. If we can use machines to do this we should - try telling your mum she should replace her scooter with coolies!

          Reserve the human hours for real care - human touch, interaction, and brotherhood.

          1. Adair Silver badge

            Re: Immoral fuckers!

            Great, except that's not the scenario under discussion. And, there are plenty of people available to 'help' each other, it is simply a case of will and organisation. We might have to change our behaviour and priorities (shock horror!).

    2. Wicked Witch

      Re: Immoral fuckers!

      There are only really a few other options.

      1. Keep going as at present: allow immigration to supply enough warm bodies to care for OAPs on top of everything else people want done that's being done by everyone who isn't caring for the elderly. The catch is that those immigrants also get old so now you've got even more old folks to take care of, so you need even more immigrants.

      2. Have more babies, and get them to work in aged care. That has all the problems of 1, but takes 20 years longer to produce workers and costs more, thought it reduces the cultural change that upsets certain parties.

      3. Like 1, but use guest workers who leave when they retire. This can work, albeit with a pay premium which may or may not be cheaper than paying for their care, but you've got to be careful to make sure they don't form attachments (marriages, children, etc.) that would be politically impossible to break up (or even forbidden by a treaty such as the ECHR). For an example of that plan not working, see Germany's Turks.

      4. Abandon other activities (easily achieved by paying more for carers so people choose that instead of the careers). Doesn't do the economy much good, but it works.

      5. Don't provide care. Politically unbelievable

      6. use "robots" remotely operated from abroad: could work, but probably more expensive in the long run than using real robots, and not noticeably more "good".

      7. increase working hours, reduce holidays, and so on. Its happening but is politically unpopular and I'd prefer holidays now and a robot to wipe my arse later than no holidays and some overworked minimum wage person who couldn't find a better way to avoid benefits sanctions.

      8. Find a way to stop wasting the potential of unemployed, underemployed, and inefficiently employed people (car wash attendants, a lot of warehouse hands, and anyone else who's doing machine's work) and so get more useful work without making anyone's lives worse or adding more workers. This is the only one that's a good idea and politically realistic, but no government in the western world has been able to solve that problem for decades and the solution found in the east block was so badly implemented it made the problem worse.

      Which do you prefer?

  7. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

    Modern Times revisited

    I am reminded of Chaplin's brilliant film, and in particular the scene with the robot that must cater to the assembly-line worker to improve productivity. Robot carers would similarly lend a whole new level of terror to our elderly.

  8. Flywheel Silver badge

    BEIS wants to develop robots to do tasks

    Having seen the development of Boston Dynamics "Big Dog" and the "Spot" series, I'm convinced that most of what BEIS want is already available!

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm in favour...

    as one of the people who will be over 75 in 2040 (assuming I last that long) I would rather be at home with a reliable, capable robot than potentially sharing my house with a carousel of minimum-wage strangers/carers who I will feel guilty for imposing on and may be vulnerable to abuse from.

    The slight fly in the ointment that I can't shake is that somehow a mass-produced robot which is robust enough yet gentle enough to care for me in my crusty years and sufficiently sophisticated not to stick my hand in the toaster rather than a slice of bread will be cost-effective to buy, repair as necessary and keep up to date in a domestiv environment compared to previously mentioned minimum-wage slaves. Or will I just be swapping the carers for a carousel of minimum-wage robot engineer operatives who know how to swap a motherboard in between beating me to find out where my money is hidden?

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: I'm in favour...

      By the time I'm 75 I fully expect to be so doolally that I'll have to resort to beating myself in order to find out where I hid my money.

  10. SVV

    growing our status as a global science superpower

    Even by the usual laughable standards of these sort of announcements, this one was utterly embarassing. Why do I need an "automated personal shopper" when I can order stuff online and have it delivered to my door today? Did someone imagine a droid trundling off down the street for a couple of miles, going to a supermarket, and trundling back again laden with carrier bags? How did that get past the "instant rejection" phase? Why do they need to have a robot to compare mortgage deals when I can do it right now on my phone using a website? Why do the over 75s need to look up mortgage deals anyway?

    Even when they develop the droid that can put a ready meal in the microwave and deliver it (a fairly easy task), how depressing a life would this be? The point of a lot of care work isn't that a machine couldn't do it, but the fact the person being cared for finds the human contact they get to be the high point of their day.

    1. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: growing our status as a global science superpower

      Ah, but you need a robot to tap your Ocado order into the computer. Preferably one built on the incorrect assumption that everything you buy from Ocado gets stored in your fridge.

      You of course also need a robot to help you with your cooking, by doing the easy bit, which is switching the oven on and off, and not the more difficult bits, which is everything else.

      And how would you like to be able to turn your washing machine on, and off, from your sofa. You won't be able to dirty clothes into it, or take clean ones out, but you will be able to press the on button.

    2. Long John Brass

      Re: growing our status as a global science superpower

      As an antisocial bastard; I think I would prefer the robot rather than the human. I will be in that demographic by the 2040's

      /crusty icon; Because I am one!

  11. batfink Silver badge

    When I'm old and crusty

    I shall use my walking stick to beat the crap out of any of these that are inflicted upon me.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Think of the fogeys

      As someone approaching that threshold and one that will be in his nineties after 2040, I would suggest to Chris Skidmark that he can take his robots and insert them.

      Many, many old people are already lonely and often feel unwanted and bypassed by society.

      Leaving them with a giant furby for the rest of their days will really make them feel so much better.

      Fortunately for me, I am a qualified roboticist so I may be able to get the thing to attack the next care administrator who thinks robots would make good companions for fogies.

  12. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    "ensuring they take their medication"

    I can see the headlines now: "Pensioner suffocated by robot forcing pills down his throat"

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "demonstrate principles like respect, fairness and equality"

    It's called programming for the love of dog. You programme it how you want it to work or have they been smoking the wacky AI baccy?

    Translation of government intentions: We don't want to have to pay staff to look after poor old people so to save money we are going to try and use robots. Next up government retirement camps where pensioners get to do worthwhile stimulating (unpaid) work.

  14. hatti

    Better done by care-bots

    Hello Dave, it looks like you shat yourself again, would you like me to change you?

  15. Lazlo Woodbine

    Robots Help The Aged

    Or it could be like Robot & Frank

    Use your OAP helper robot to stage a couple of burglaries...

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Your kids will be glad

    if it comes to changing nappies, I would prefer a quick bullet to the head, or a thick pillow at least. Or CO. They might have got my mind transferred to a (silent, no doubt) storage by then. As long as they upload my ever-growing porn collection too, I might sign the consent form, why not...

  17. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change

    Why Government?

    Industry is doing a fine job of providing us with assistance robots. For example, the roomba when you find you can no longer use a conventional hoover. Not to mention all kinds of sensory and mobility aids, from the walking stick to the sophisticated rig Prof Hawking. had for extreme physical disability. Given that there is a market, I expect the range and sophistication of such robots to grow rapidly - and the best of them will revolutionise aspects of ageing.

    The private sector produces assistance that people actually want. Government's track record tends to be the opposite: spend taxpayers' money on projects that go nowhere and produce nothing of use. Even when it comes to long-established technology they can't organise it: the NHS promised my late mother a wheelchair, but it never turned up.

    1. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: Why Government?

      The most difficult bit of hoovering is clearing all the c*@p out the way so you can get the hoover to it. A Roomba doesn't help with that.

      1. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change

        Re: Why Government?

        Up to a point, Lord Copper. Especially when your space/clutter ratio is low.

        But when both my parents became too weak to use a vacuum cleaner for more than a couple of minutes, getting them a roomba was a real godsend. In what was a relatively-tidy house, clearing a floor for it wasn't a problem, and it did such a great job I couldn't resist getting one for myself, too.

    2. Long John Brass

      Re: Why Government?

      OAPs in mech suites demand worthers originals. Armed standoff continues :)

  18. colinb

    i'll take the Robots any day

    The mother of a friend of mine is going through dementia but has care in her home, initially private now council.

    They installed a hoist to help the carers get her out of bed.

    Each time he visits it appears to be relegated to a towel rail and looks unused, his mother is basically left in bed full time. The foreign carers don't speak much English so conversations don't happen either.

    Relying on humans in your old age? Good luck with that.

  19. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    The Art of Programming Robots

    Most coders can produce code to do a specific task.

    One of the necessary skills to transform that code into production comes with dealing with the burgeoning combination of error conditions that could occur. In some cases however, the programmer really does have to give up on the "what if's" and simply try to shut-down. I say "try to", in some cases the encountered stimulus might interfere with even that. We've all come across the pc that boots into Windows, encounters an error, shuts down, then boots up again, ad infinitum. $Deity forbid anyone to program robots like that, particularly if these things are allowed to roam the environment unsupervised. One of my (late) clients had a bed which automatically flex his legs periodically throughout the night to presumably maintain good circulation. One wonders how robust the timing mechanism is, and what state it would leave the bed (and hence the patient) in, should a failure occur.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: The Art of Programming Robots

      It'd just reboot and run another flex cycle before crashing and rebooting again. Your client would end up with thighs like tractors.

      1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

        Re: I'll have to resort to beating myself in order to find out where I hid my money.

        You hid the money under the mattress of that bed... The one that you can't get near because it keeps flexing...

      2. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: The Art of Programming Robots

        @Rich 11

        That's fine until the fogeybot gets stuck in an arse wiping loop.

  20. earl grey

    More likely scenario

    Your "care" robot picks you up and carries you off to the Soylent Green place.

    I would prefer to simply ask mine to run down to the corner store and get a six pack of cold, wet, and alcoholic and not drink it on the way home.

  21. sbt

    Two legs good, four wheels bad

    Sod this human farming lark for a joke. If I can't do for meself, I'm out. A quick one-way trip to Switzerland beckons, if necessary.

    The moment I'm forced to have a listening/recording unit in my home to monitor me (never mind assist me), that's the moment to get out with a bit a grace and dignity.

    Mine's the shroud with no pockets. -->

  22. Mike 137 Silver badge

    "[...] autonomous care for elderly research"

    Is that research that's been superseded by subsequent discoveries (whereupon it would hardly need care any more), or was there an 'ers' left off by accident? If so, why should such a small sector of the population be preferentially provided for in this way?

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