Danish research into robotic technology can best be expressed by the Geminoid-DK, a robot that pushes the so-called "uncanny valley" phenomenon to its limits. But beyond the poster child for Danish robotics, recent research has gone on into a more mundane, yet no less valuable, use for robots: specifically, as help for the elderly.
It's called "welfare technology", and the term--as well as the technology--is a Danish invention that the Danes hope will catch on to give them a leg up on a new industry that will expand into the global markets. With the cost of health care climbing on an almost daily basis, it's not surprising that the health care industry might look for cost savings in the same direction that many industries have: robots.
The Danish health care system can best be described by essentially two words: "generous" and "expensive". Their population is aging, and labor pools are drying up, as is commonly the case in large parts of Europe. In elder care, the numbers are even worse, with just over 38 percent of same nearly elders themselves at over 50 years old. They will be retiring in the next 10 to 15 years, and there's just not much coming up behind them. So with elderly increasing, demand for elder care increasing, and an overall decreasing labor pool to supplant them, what's left? Robots.
Back in 2006, the Danish government established three billion kroner--$519 million U.S.--to study how robots can be used to serve in various public capacities. This fund has launched a variety of sub-studies, like the use of a Japanese robotic seal that comforts dementia patients, devices that monitor patients in their own homes and sends reports back to doctors, and even a "washing tunnel" geared toward providing patients with baths more simply and more effectively than humans can.
This in turn has had an unexpected but welcome result, as it's allowed Denmark to successfully market itself as a proving ground, of sorts, for devices geared toward elder care and the like. Japanese firm Cyberdyne--not related to the Terminator franchise on anything more than a tangential level--is looking to bring in an "exoskeleton suit" to help patients walk, and Panasonic is looking to test a bed with a built-in wheelchair. Other firms are also looking to get in on the action.
The problems involved with the Danish health care system likely either will happen or are currently happening to most developed nations on Earth. The graying of the work force, the reduced quantities of workers to follow, and the need to care for the elderly will produce situations--and solutions--unlike those ever seen before. Denmark's extensive product testing program will hopefully yield big dividends soon, both for them, and for the rest of the world.
Edited by Brooke Neuman