Southend-on-Sea to use robot in social care

Council expects to use Pepper in supporting people with dementia and children with disabilities

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has unveiled a child-size robot that it said can support some of its activities in social care.

Cute robot's faceIt said it is the first local authority in the country to buy and use the artificial humanoid under an academic licence.

Named Pepper, it has the ability to communicate, perceive principal human emotions, adapt its own behaviour and make independent decisions.

This gives it the ability to play videos, music and sensory games that can help people with dementia and children with complex disabilities.

It was recently revealed to staff at a practitioner event for social work and allied professionals by Lyn Romeo, chief social worker for adults at the Department for Health.

Lesley Salter, Southend’s executive councillor for health and adult social care, said: “Robots may seem like something from the distant future, but the technology is here and we strongly believe that Pepper can have a positive impact on social care as we continue to transform our services and make sure they are fit for the future.”

She said one of the possibilities is to use Pepper in running a reminiscence group for people with dementia, and that academics are exploring how robotics can help stroke survivors to do physio exercises.

Helping staff

“We are absolutely clear that Pepper is not here to replace any of our people, but to complement and help the existing staff we have to deliver a better service by freeing up time for them to deal directly with people for example,” Salter added.

Sharon Houlden, director of adult services and housing, said the robot will not be used for any direct or personal one to one care, but can used in a range of settings, including in residential care homes, sheltered housing schemes and as an information and advice point in relevant buildings.

“Pepper will also be a champion for the advances that digital and robotic technology and programming can make in a social care setting and he will visit local schools to inspire children to consider a career in the social care, robotic and programming sector,” she said.

“This is also about exploration and pushing the boundaries. Whilst the sector has talked about this technology for some time now, we are ambitious and confident enough in Southend-on-Sea to make the first move and become the first local authority to trial this technology.

“We are convinced that digital technology is where the future lies for social care and we would be delighted to explore this further with other innovative partners.”

You can learn more about the potential for robotics in public services at UKAuthority’s follow-up to its successful conference on the subject. Return of the Bots is scheduled to take place on 14 November 2017 in central London. It is free to attend for public sector employees. You can learn more and register for the event here.

Image from Southed Borough Council