Aging Populations and Personal Robotics

I was reading about the rise of social robots and what some of the leading researchers are working on in the space and was confronted by this quote:

As countries worldwide face challenges of an aging population, social robots can be one solution to address the shrinking workforce, become personal companions for children and the elderly at home, and even serve as a platform for healthcare services in future,

It caught me off-guard. Not because I haven’t seen depictions of this in movies like Robot & Frank, or that the idea of robots as companions and helpers isn’t incredibly obvious, but that as aging nations like Japan (where 1/3rd of the population will be a senior citizen by 2030) and Germany (28% senior citizens by 2030) head towards worker shortages, we could start to see a major social + service robot presence develop to replace the workforce not out of a desire for increased efficiency, but out of macroeconomic necessity.

Countries that are prime candidates for this are those with high old age dependency ratios (i.e. the number of people age 65 and older per 100 working age people (age 15-64). (The higher the number, the more elderly people there are to be supported by younger working adults.)

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Countries that headline the list are largely out of Asia and Europe including Japan, South Korea, China, Germany, Spain, and France.

Each of these countries have seen significant development in humanoid robots including three from Aldebaran Robotics of France – Pepper, Romeo, and Nao, in addition to Asimo (Japan), Hubo2 (South Korea), Hovis (South Korea), iCub(Europe), and RoboThespian (UK), among many others.

The International Federation of Robotics projects that over 8000 robot companions/assistants/humanoids will be sold over the next 4 years versus almost none in the previous few years.

When we look at the future of what the IFR calls “service robots for personal and domestic use” the growth continues to increase drastically, with 4.7 million service robots sold in 2014, up 28% vs. 2013 and accounting for $2.2B in sales. This is projected to grow to over 27 million personal service robots from 2015 to 2018 totaling over $12B in sales.

Diving deeper, handicap assistance robots have exploded with 4416 robots sold in 2014 up 542% vs. 2013′s total of 699.

In addition, Japan also is one of the most powerful countries when it comes to industrial robot manufacturing with companies such as Fanuc, Yaskawa-Motoman, Kawasaki, and others all based there. Europe also has industry leaders in ABB, Kuka, and Universal Robots. These industrial robotics powerhouses are very likely moreso out of the increased prevalence of manufacturing in these regions than related to age, but it is a relevant data point to be aware of moving forward.

Regardless of how the service and personal robotics adoption curve hits regions and social classes globally, in the case of many of these aging countries, necessity very well could be the mother of invention.

This post originally appeared on my Notes