Meet Zora, the ro­bot care­giver

The tech-driven com­pan­ion is prov­ing to be a good lis­tener and friend to se­nior pa­tients

StarMetro Edmonton - - DAILY LIFE - Adam Satar­i­ano, Elian Peltier and Dmitry Kostyukov Read more about Zora at thes­

Zora may not look like much — more cute toy than fu­tur­is­tic mar­vel — but this ro­bot is at the cen­tre of an ex­per­i­ment in France to change care for se­nior cit­i­zens.

When Zora ar­rived at a nurs­ing fa­cil­ity an hour out­side of Paris, a strange thing be­gan hap­pen­ing: many pa­tients de­vel­oped an emo­tional at­tach­ment, treat­ing it like a baby, hold­ing and coo­ing, giv­ing it kisses on the head.

Zora, which can cost up to $24,000, of­fered com­pan­ion­ship in a place where life can be lonely. Fam­i­lies can visit only so much, and staff mem­bers are stretched.

Pa­tients at the hos­pi­tal, called Jouarre, have de­men­tia and other con­di­tions that re­quire round-the-clock care.

The nurse at Jouarre who over­sees Zora con­trols the ro­bot from a lap­top. He of­ten stands out of view so pa­tients don’t know it’s him at the con­trols.

The ro­bot can have a con­ver­sa­tion be­cause the nurse types words into a lap­top for the ro­bot to speak. Some pa­tients re­fer to Zora as “she,” oth­ers “he.”

Zora of­ten leads ex­er­cises and plays games.

Not ev­ery­one is enamoured. Ro­bot­ics still has a long way to go be­fore there’s a re­al­is­tic chance of hav­ing a hu­manoid nurse.

The ex­pe­ri­ence at Jouarre pro­vides a win­dow into a fu­ture when we will rely more on ro­bots to help care for loved ones as they age.

Zora Bots, the Bel­gium­based provider of the ro­bot at Jouarre, says it has sold over 1,000 of the ro­bots to health care fa­cil­i­ties around the world. It is part of a grow­ing em­pha­sis on ro­bot­ics fo­cused on care.

Giv­ing ro­bots more re­spon­si­bil­ity to care for peo­ple in the twi­light of their lives may seem like a dystopian prospect, but many see it as an in­evitabil­ity.

In nearly ev­ery coun­try, the pop­u­la­tion of older adults is ris­ing. The num­ber of peo­ple over 60 will more than dou­ble to 2.1 bil­lion by 2050, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions. The fig­ures point to an emerg­ing gap. There sim­ply won’t be enough peo­ple for the re­quired health care jobs.

In Aus­tralia, a hos­pi­tal us­ing a Zora ro­bot stud­ied the ef­fects on pa­tients and staff. The re­searchers found that it im­proved the mood of some pa­tients, and got them more in­volved in ac­tiv­i­ties, but re­quired sig­nif­i­cant tech­ni­cal sup­port.

The ex­pe­ri­ence of the French hos­pi­tal staff has been sim­i­lar. Staff mem­bers have been con­tin­u­ally sur­prised by how at­tached pa­tients have be­come. Pa­tients have told the ro­bot things about their health they wouldn’t share with doc­tors.

“It puts some cheer­ful­ness in our lives here,” says Mar­lène Si­mon, 70, who has been in the hos­pi­tal for more than a year. “We love her, and I miss her when I don’t see her. I ac­tu­ally think about her quite of­ten.”


This ro­bot is at the cen­tre of an ex­per­i­ment in France to change care for pa­tients at a time when the pop­u­la­tion of older adults is ris­ing.

Zora the ro­bot can talk be­cause the nurse types words into a lap­top.

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