Robots in Japan counteract a growing childcare shortage
Japan has one of the largest ageing populations in the world, where many young citizens are delaying parenthood and working long hours in order to pay high rental prices. Transforming the country’s economy, childcare has become a somewhat lucrative resource as a result of national shortages, with long waiting lists which are still rising.
Demand is outstripping supply in the region, leading Japan to look at how technology can support nursery workers and enable both parents to return to work.
Growing start-up company Global Bridge Holdings has developed a solution to support nurseries with the development of a new robot, embedding key sensors to monitor body temperature through the use of a thermograph, a child’s heart rate and sleep patterns of all the children who attend the nursery. Additionally, the robots house facial recognition technology in order to identify each child.
Named Vevo, it is built to encompass a bear face and human body and has been likened to a ‘care bear’. Currently under trial, if successful the technology will be placed within a second nursey and be sold by next year.
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Yuji Takashima, a spokesperson for Social Solutions, the Global Bridge Holdings subsidiary behind the childcare robotics project, informed The Telegraph: “We believe that by supporting childcare education with this robot, we can contribute to resolving the shortage of nursery teacher and improving the quality of education.”
However, creating robots to support the healthcare sector in Japan is nothing new. The country’s Robear, similarly to Vevo, was built two years ago to support the region’s ageing population and growing demand for healthcare services.
Built to be more hard-wearing, the robot can lift patients out of bed and place them in wheelchairs through the use of inbuilt sensors to support patients further in case they slip or are uncomfortable.
Consequently, the technology will slightly alleviate the strain on care services and provide patients with the independence that they need.
Birdie aims to reinvent elderly care with tech
British startup Birdie has announced it has raised £8.2 million to invest in innovation and scale up the business.
The company's announcement is timely as it follows the criticism of the UK government over their lack of a plan for social care, despite acknowledging the sector is in crisis - around a quarter of the UK's home care providers are on the brink of bankruptcy due to a lack of funds and staffing.
Birdie was born with a mission to "radically improve the lives of millions of older adults", by using app-based solutions, IoT and machine learning to put preventative care at the forefront. The company was founded by Max Parmentier, after experiencing his own frustrations with the care system - his grandfather struggled with the impact of life in a care home, but lacked any other option.
In 2017 Parmentier partnered with venture builder Kamet Ventures to set up Birdie, in a bid to fix this problem. Since then, Birdie has partnered with almost 500 providers across the UK, and supports more than 20,000 older people every week. In the past 12 months alone the number of people Birdie supports has got six times greater.
Birdie’s solution is an app to help care providers deliver more coordinated, personalised and preventative care, by giving them access to digital assessments, medication scheduling and planning tools. By using digital tools to take care of admin, staff have more time to spend with their care recipients.
The new investment will be used to fund Birdie’s next phase of growth in the UK, as the company scales to meet the rapidly growing demand of the aging population. The company will also invest in product innovation, creating new features to address customer requests.
In addition, Birdie is piloting new care models, including partnering with the NHS to identify COVID-19 symptoms, building predictive pharmacy models with AI, and helping health authorities to detect early warning signs of patients’ health risks.
Internally, Birdie is committed to having a progressive company ethos. All salaries are transparent, and staff work asynchronously to maximise flexibility and equity. Staff members also volunteer in their local community during office hours, and the company offsets all its emissions.
These efforts have led to numerous awards, including having the best SME culture in the UK, an Honorable Mention in the Health category of Fast Company’s 2021 World Changing Ideas Awards, and innovation in care at the LangBuisson awards.
“We believe the future of care for older people should be helping them to live at home for as long as possible through the delivery of personalised and preventative care" Parmentier said.
"Birdie is already the partner of choice for caregivers up and down the UK, and this new funding will help us rapidly increase the number we partner with and what we can offer them - meaning more people benefiting from more affordable, quality care. We’re proud of our mission and the values we embody to pursue it.”