A network of universities, led by UWE Bristol, has come together to explore how robots can be used to support people to better self-manage the conditions that result from frailty, providing information and data to healthcare practitioners, and enabling more timely interventions.
Professor Praminda Caleb-Solly, Professor of Assistive Robotics and Intelligent Health Technologies at UWE Bristol, is leading a team of four other UK universities, Sheffield, Heriot Watt, Sheffield Hallam and Hertfordshire, who together have established a new network, EMERGENCE.
The aim of EMERGENCE is to create and catalyse a robotics for healthcare community, which connects researchers, health and social care professionals, service users, regulators and policy makers, to influence the wider use of healthcare robots to support people living with frailty in the community.
Individuals with frailty have different needs but, commonly, assistance is needed in activities related to mobility, self-care, domestic life and social activities. Whilst providing cost-effective and high-quality support for an aging population is a high priority issue, the lack of adequate social care provisions in the community and funding cuts have added to the pressures on an already overstretched healthcare system. The gaps in ability to deliver the requisite quality of care, in the face of a shrinking care workforce, have been particularly exposed during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.
Professor Praminda Caleb-Solly said: “Healthcare robots are increasingly recognised as solutions in helping people improve independent living, by having the ability to offer physical assistance as well as supporting complex self-management and healthcare tasks when integrated with patient data.
“The EMERGENCE network will foster and facilitate innovative research and development of healthcare robotic solutions so that they can be realised as pragmatic and sustainable solutions providing personalised, affordable and inclusive health and social care in the community.”
Amirabdollahian, Professor of Human-Robot Interaction at the University of Hertfordshire and the lead of the work package on safety, regulation and ethics for integration said: “In order to ensure adoption of these emerging technologies and ensure that healthcare robotic solutions are easily deployed and integrated as part of frailty care, it is important to define the safety, regulatory and ethical requirements and frameworks. The EMERGENCE network will organise workshops for robotics researchers and companies on how to conduct risk assessments, hazard analysis and support them in interpreting and applying regulatory requirements in health and social care.”
The network will nurture and support a community of researchers in healthcare and robotics through pilot feasibility studies, sponsored and facilitated by the network to develop new approaches beyond the state-of-the-art. £300k will be made available in total for these pilot projects.
This project is supported through a three-year £700,000 EPSRC (The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) NetworkPlus grant.
The EMERGENCE consortium is a world class multi-disciplinary team who bring not only their expertise in healthcare technology research, but also innovative living lab testbeds from across the country; the Assisted Living Studio at Bristol Robotics Lab covering the South West; the National Robotarium in Edinburgh; together with the Health Innovation South East Scotland’s Midlothian test bed; the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre and CATCH HomeLab in Sheffield; and the Robot House at the University of Hertfordshire covering the South East.
Each of the testbeds collaborate with their regional Academic Health Science Networks, care commissioning groups, Integrated Care Systems, hospital trusts, as well as residential and community care providers and local authority councils.
By bringing together their existing individual regional networks, EMERGENCE plan to create an exceptional and strong national network. The EMERGENCE consortium’s testbeds have already been enabling some of the key foundational research underpinning assistive robotics, including Internet of Things and intelligent sensing, as part of user-centred, open innovation research projects.
Together they will bring the interdisciplinary skills and complementary approaches needed to spearhead a shared learning initiative to drive and coordinate the development of robotics technology for frailty in all sectors of health and social care.
Professor Caleb-Solly added: “In achieving the network’s goal to galvanise patient-focused healthcare robotics research and knowledge exchange, we hope to increase uptake by facilitating interdisciplinary experts to come together in solving real-world challenges of supporting people with frailty, building a body of knowledge which can be extended to other patient groups.”