Could a robot care for grandma?

In the future, machines could be programmed to assist and comfort the elderly—and help meet the escalating demand for caregivers.

As part of the photographer’s project, elderly people were asked to imagine how they would interact with a robot. A resident at Maison Ferrari, a retirement home in Clamart, France, volunteered to act as the robot’s godmother. She pictured herself celebrating its birthday and decorated her chair with balloons.

When Goldie Nejat began developing robots in 2005, she spent much of her time knocking on doors in hopes of demonstrating her high-tech prototypes. Back then, the health-care world was hesitant. “Now, it’s the opposite,” says Nejat, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Toronto. “I have people calling from around the world saying, When’s your robot going to be ready?”

Nejat’s machines, a special type known as socially assistive robots, are designed to engage with humans and could help fill an urgent need: caregiving for the elderly. The population of people over age 80 is projected to almost triple worldwide, from 143 million in 2019 to 426 million in 2050.

Such robots could be especially useful for patients with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia because the robots can be programmed to assist with everything from providing medication reminders to leading exercises. Nejat’s robots also can help run bingo and memory games to keep patients cognitively active.

More from this issue

Why our fast-paced society loves yoga

These traditional diets can lead to long lives

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet