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”
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. Amazon.com lures repeat customers to its $99-a-year Prime membership with fast, free delivery. Its upstart rival, Jet.com, 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