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Where is the greatest future potential for robots?
Angle: Well, I think providing the independence that an aging person requires to remain living independently--meaning, I want to live in my home until I die, and I can't afford a live-in nurse, and even if I could afford a live-in nurse, there aren't any and I don't want to be driven to the doctor's every other day. My robot takes care of me. I'm able to live all my life, I can visit my friends, I could continue my existence even as my physical capabilities diminish.
Is this something you envision as a device that is medically taking care of you, like monitoring your health, or is it something that's doing all the things that you can no longer do because you are too feeble to do so on your own?
Angle: We already sell eldercare robots; they are called Roomba and Scooba.
When we look at the people who were the earliest adopters of Roomba, there were three groups. First, people who really like clean homes and wanted something to go vacuum every day and get under their couches and beds and just wanted a routine cleaning service. Second, pet owners, people with shedding pets where you either vacuumed every day or you lived with pet hair everywhere. And then the third were the elderly, people who have difficulty pushing their own vacuum.
We had a woman who was incredibly passionate in getting back to us because, she said, "This has changed my life because, prior to Roomba, I'd have a cleaning service come in and vacuum and clean once a week, and so that I would only feel good enough about my house once a week to invite anyone over. Now Roomba does it every day and I feel good about having people over more frequently."
That's pretty compelling, and that's one of the biggest challenges of an aging person--increased social isolation. And here Roomba is decreasing this person's social isolation. So, ultimately this concept of delivering more independence starts with making homes that take care of themselves, and then continues on with technology to look toward the person and provide them with virtual doctor visits.
How long before that vision becomes a reality?
Angle: Ultimately, you end up in a hospital. Ultimately, you need a level of care which requires physical intervention beyond the capacity of a robot.
Could Roomba alone be seen, for some subset of the population in question, extending their ability to live independently by a year or two maybe? If we have a complete set of robots that took care of your housework, and folded your clothes and did your laundry, what then? If we allowed routine nurse visits to happen virtually, to sort of eyeball the person and ensure compliance for taking their meds, which is the number one reason why people are admitted into assisted living facilities? Well, then you've already taken a big step forward if we can ensure that.
It's going to be a step-by-step process, but if you have spent time caring for an aging relative, you know it's painful, it's challenging. This is a cost-effective way of helping reduce the burden there.
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