The aim of the Social & Autonomous Robotic Health Assistant project was to develop a SARA robot that would ease the workload of care facility staff and provide clients with opportunities for social interaction. The integration of a social dimension allows the robot to provide clients with additional stimulation and help them engage in meaningful everyday activities.
There was considered to be a clear need for the development of this type of social robot, as the workload and stress of care staff is constantly increasing. This can potentially lead to a number of negative impacts, such as mistakes in the distribution of medications and burnout. According to studies, three out of four nurses feel that their work is occasionally highly stressful due to lack of time, among other factors.
Duration, partners and funding
• The robot was developed collaboratively by four project partners: Forum Virium Helsinki from Finland, Bright Cape Holding from the Netherlands and Technische Universität Berlin from Germany. The Finnish company GIM Robotics is responsible for the navigation capabilities of the SARA robot.
• Running until the end of 2019, the project was funded primarily by EIT Digital and participating companies. Forum Virium Helsinki’s work in the project was funded by EIT Digital, with co-financing from the City of Helsinki.
The role of Forum Virium Helsinki
Forum Virium Helsinki was responsible of the pilots in Helsinki. In Finland, the SARA robot was tested in cooperation with the Kustaankartano Comprehensive Service Centre’s dementia ward. Preliminary testing was carried out in spring 2019 with the aim of mapping the wishes and needs of both residents and care staff to support the development of the robot. During the preliminary testing, residents got to try out various types of memory games and listen to the hit songs of their youth, among other activities.
Benefits to Helsinki
In autumn 2019, the SARA robot was tested by the residents and care staff of Kustaankartano for a period of three weeks. The robot allowed residents to engage in various activities and moved around the ward independently. The aim was to also ease the workload of the care staff with the help of the robot by offering additional information related to the distribution of medications, for example. The objective of the experiment was to make sure that the robot to be developed would meet the needs of both the clients and the nursing staff as optimally as possible. The conclusion drawn at the end of the testing period was that people reacted very positively to the SARA robot and that it became a natural part of the everyday lives of both residents and nurses.
“The strength and guiding principle of Kustaankartano has always been that we have the courage and will to try out new technological solutions that serve our residents, staff and nursing at large. It is wonderful to see clever innovations, such as robots like SARA, in action. This frees up nurses for actual care and nursing work,” says Service Centre Eeden Head Nurse Jaana Pilvinen.
There is clear demand for care robots
The SARA care robot features smart navigation and is capable of simple discussion. The robot includes different types of social content, which can be browsed via a touchscreen mounted on the robot at chest height. The SARA robot is also equipped to assist care staff in various tasks, such as medicine delivery.
“It has been great to see how robotics can bring genuine joy to the lives of senior citizens while also making nurses’ work easier,” summarises Project Manager Anne-Mari Sandell from Forum Virium Helsinki.
A similar pilot was also carried out in Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Based on feedback received, a startup was established in the Netherlands in autumn 2019 to further develop the care robot, with the aim of bringing it to the market in 2020.