“The thing about human care is, unless you’re particularly disabled you don’t need someone there all the time”
Sitting in a studio in Kensington, London, the designer Sebastian Conran walks me through a worst-case scenario. “Basically, what it’s looking for is a break in routine,” he explains, pointing to a drawing of an elderly woman, collapsed on the floor of her home. “There’s an event. The e-sensor in the room notices that you’ve fallen over. MiRo goes to investigate.”
MiRo is a robotic dog. There is an early model close to where we are sitting. Its head sits above a torso without arms or legs, and its cartoonish eyes stare out below alert ears embedded with speakers. Conran’s company describes it as a biomimetic companion robot, and says it will eventually work with facial recognition technology to make life easier for its owner – to prompt them to take medicine, or to remind them of visitors’ names, or to question them if it thinks they’re in trouble. Conran tells me to think of it as a cross between a pet and Radio 4’s John Humphrys.
“It tries talking to you,” he continues, “and then it will send a signal to the hub saying there seems to be a problem. The hub will then broadcast on the home speaker, asking again if you’re all right, and telling you to slap your wrist.”
“The thing about human care is, unless you’re particularly disabled you don’t need someone there all the time,” Conran says. “But you do need to deal with loneliness and fear. If a carer comes to see you twice a week for an hour, what’s happening in between? What’s happening to people when a carer isn’t there?” Conran is not the only one to ask these questions and look for answers in the use of robots and smart systems.