Europe builds a ro­bot army to care for se­niors

Hard­ware ▶ Me­chan­i­cal aides can pick up gro­ceries and take out the trash ▶ “Ask the ro­bot the same thing 10 times … it will never get an­noyed”

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - News -

Re­tiree Mau­r­izio Fer­aboli taps a gro­cery list into a tablet and sends wheeled ro­bots to re­trieve food from a store near his apart­ment out­side Pisa, Italy. His neigh­bor Wanda Mascitelli di­rects ro­bots to grab the trash from her kitchen and drop it

pro­ject. “A walker that is a ro­bot but doesn’t look like a ro­bot” has a bet­ter chance of be­ing ac­cepted into ev­ery­day life, he says. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion has given €4 mil­lion to Mario, a group that’s de­vel­op­ing ro­bot com­pan­ions for peo­ple with de­men­tia. “You can ask the ro­bot the same thing 10 times, and it will never get an­noyed,” says Kathy Mur­phy, a pro­fes­sor at the School of Nurs­ing and Mid­wifery at Ir­ish univer­sity NUI Gal­way. She’s help­ing man­age the re­search with part­ners such as French de­vel­oper Ro­bosoft and the U.K. town of Stock­port. This sum­mer, Mario will start pi­lot pro­grams with se­niors in Ire­land, the U.K., and Italy. When the pro­ject con­cludes in 2018, the goal is to com­mer­cial­ize a “cost-ef­fec­tive ro­bot that health­care providers would wish to pur­chase” to help as­suage lone­li­ness and iso­la­tion and re­duce health- care staff, says Mur­phy.

“The com­mis­sion has very clear goals around the use of ro­bot­ics in the field of ac­tive and healthy ag­ing,” says Andy Bleaden, Stock­port’s fund­ing and pro­grams man­ager and an ex­ter­nal eval­u­a­tor for projects seek­ing fund­ing from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. Along with ad­dress­ing a so­cial need, he says, “the rea­son the EC is putting money on the ta­ble is to get ours to mar­ket faster than our com­peti­tors.”

That’s the goal of Vin­cent Dupourqué, the founder of Ro­bosoft in Aquitaine, France, which makes the Kom­paï ro­bots Mario is test­ing. A biomed­i­cal en­gi­neer who’s been work­ing in ro­bot­ics since the end of the 1970s, he plans to take Kom­paï ro­bots into com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion next year and pro­duce 10,000 units an­nu­ally in 2020, sell­ing them for €5,000 each. Be­cause of the short­age of care­givers and snow­balling in­ter­est in ro­bot­ics from nurs­ing homes and in­sur­ers, “this is the right time to ac­cel­er­ate,” says Dupourqué.

World­wide, man­u­fac­tur­ers sold 4,416 el­derly and hand­i­cap as­sis­tance ro­bots in 2014, ac­cord­ing to a fall re­port from the In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Ro­bot­ics in Frank­furt. IFR de­scribes el­derly care as a “ma­jor mar­ket of to­mor­row” and projects sales will to­tal 32,500 units from 2015 through 2018.

Prov­ing ro­bots can bet­ter se­niors’ qual­ity of life and re­duce the cost of car­ing is cru­cial to de­vel­op­ing the mar­ket, says Anne Grad­vohl, in­no­va­tion di­rec­tor at In­téri­ale, a Paris-based in­surer that tested Kom­paï ro­bots in a hand­ful of el­derly clients’ homes last year. Par­tic­i­pants “re­al­ized ro­bot­ics is not de­hu­man­iz­ing the re­la­tion­ship,” she says. “They re­al­ized ro­bots aren’t there to re­place care­tak­ers” but to com­ple­ment them and “give peace of mind to their fam­i­lies in case of an emer­gency.” Grad­vohl, who says other in­sur­ers are in­vest­ing in ro­bot­ics com­pa­nies fo­cused on the el­derly, is plan­ning a se­cond round of in-home test­ing with Kom­paï ro­bots. That will last 6 to 12 months with a larger group of clients who need daily as­sis­tance. “We don’t con­sider ro­bot­ics an an­swer to ev­ery­thing,” she says, “but it can help peo­ple stay at home longer with se­cu­rity at an af­ford­able price.” �Nick Leiber

To en­cour­age se­niors to ex­er­cise and so­cial­ize,

looks to sell a ver­sion of its walker to fam­i­lies for less than €2,000. By 2020, plans to pro­duce an­nu­ally 10,000 Kom­paï ro­bots, de­signed for peo­ple suf­fer­ing from de­men­tia. A ro­bot be­ing tested by has been pro­grammed to ac­com­pany a woman to the din­ing room at a nurs­ing home in Florence. The bot­tom line By one es­ti­mate, 32,500 ro­bots de­signed to help care for the el­derly and dis­abled will be sold from 2015 through 2018.

of de­liv­ery or pro­vide other dis­counts when cus­tomers buy their prod­ucts. In ad­di­tion to giv­ing out coupons, the com­pa­nies pay to ad­ver­tise on In­stacart’s web­site. Those pay­ments ac­count for 15 per­cent of In­stacart’s rev­enue, ac­cord­ing to Apoorva Me­hta, the com­pany’s chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer.

Shop­pers can find dis­counts when fill­ing their carts with brands such as De­gree, Dori­tos, Di­giorno, Quaker Oats, and Häa­genDazs. Sam­ple In­stacart ads of­fer $1 off Dove soap or free de­liv­ery if you spend $10 on Red Bull. Me­hta likens the ads to those that ap­pear along­side Google search re­sults. “It’s like Adwords for gro­ceries,” he says.

In­stacart says the cost of de­liv­er­ing an or­der is much higher than the $5.99 it charges shop­pers, but cus­tomers are un­will­ing to pay more. The com­pany tried to make up some of the dif­fer­ence by sell­ing prod­ucts for more than what the gro­cery stores charged. Cus­tomers com­plained, and In­stacart stopped charg­ing higher prices on most prod­ucts. The com­pany re­cently cut pay for some work­ers, ac­cord­ing to re­ports on web­sites Quartz and Re/code. In­stacart says it “re­duced vari­abil­ity” in pay for its shop­pers. “Peo­ple re­sist pay­ing for de­liv­ery, be­cause in their minds, it’s some­thing they pre­vi­ously paid $0 for when they picked up their own gro­ceries,” says Nir Eyal, an au­thor who stud­ies how peo­ple form habits around tech­nol­ogy. “Of course, that’s silly be­cause time also has value, but peo­ple don’t see it that way.”

Other e- com­merce com­pa­nies have their own ap­proaches to the prob­lem. Ama­ lures re­peat cus­tomers to its $99-a-year Prime mem­ber­ship with fast, free de­liv­ery. Its up­start ri­val,, of­fers dis­counts to shop­pers who or­der in bulk, which re­duces de­liv­ery ex­penses. Post­mates, a startup that typ­i­cally charges as much as $10 for de­liv­ery from restau­rants, re­duces that to $2.99 or $3.99 when a restau­rant pays the com­pany a com­mis­sion of 15 per­cent to 20 per­cent on the or­der. More than 35 per­cent of or­ders

bil­lion Val­u­a­tion of In­stacart when it raised money from in­vestors late

last year

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