“Robot and Frank”: The Future of Home Healthcare Robots?

What is the future really like for home healthcare robots? A new film “Robot and Frank” is a pretty funny take on the idea and I think (and hope) it will offer some insight into the problems that we’ll encounter as this dream is pursued. The film features a grumpy elderly gentleman with a helpful, but slightly bossy, robot assistant who looks very much like the Honda Asimo humanoid robot.


The film looks very funny but I’m not sure that “humanoid” robots are the one-stop solution that is often proposed. I am sure that they will be created and lots of people will buy them, but I’m not convinced that they are the best solution to the problem.

In an interview in Wired, Colin Angle, the CEO of iRobot, said the the Roomba was the best home healthcare robot:

My goal is quite simple: to extend the amount of time you can live independently at home. You need to be able to maintain your home. That completely fits with what we’re already doing. Roomba is the most successful healthcare robot ever created. Older people are among the most rabid purchasers of Roomba. We get stories about people’s lives being changed by their Roomba. The floor washing robot Scooba is the same — that’s a manually intensive thing that older people struggle to do.

I agree with his sentiments. If we want to enable elderly people to live for longer in their own homes, we need to eliminate the reasons they move out, one by one, task by task. The Roomba is actually more like an appliance than a robot - along similar lines to a microwave or a dishwasher - and appliances have probably done more to improve life for the disabled and the elderly than many more high tech inventions.

That is not to say that future appliances might not look more like robots - with more use of linear actuators instead of simple motors. Folding clothes, making the bed, clearing up dirty dishes, serving dinner, and taking medications are all task where linear actuators will probably be needed. A dishwasher is really a robot but a machine that folds clothes, really looks like a robot:

The Robot and Frank film also illustrates the fact than introducing something as sci-fi as a robot will always create more problems than introducing useful appliances (even if robotic), in an incremental fashion. From seeing clips, it seems like the real advance that the film illustrates is ability to communicate effortlessly with the machine through advanced AI and voice recognition. However, this is one function that really doesn't need a robot - we just need speakers and microphone connected to the internet - and it will allow less mobile people to interact with a device from a distance and eliminate the need to use a keyboard or mouse. It might also eliminate the need for a display on many devices, as the entire user experience could be conducted through conversation.

I'm really looking forward to seeing this film. As well as satiating my need for a regular sci-fi fix, it will be interesting to see how they explore the various physical and psychological issues that are driving the vision for home healthcare robots.

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Comment by David Sandbach on March 8, 2012 at 10:47am

Robot priority list:

Health and Social care:

This robot will keep all my medical records which my providers will down load to “Doc Ro” as and when I interact with health and social care organisations.

Doc RO will hold a hologram of me giving my personal instructions regarding resuscitation post trauma in the event I am in a coma. This will be posted on to my Facebook account at hourly intervals until stopped by me or my solicitor inserting the stop transmission code. Details of my Enduring Power of Attorney will be emailed to key family and friends plus my GP once transmission starts.

A hologram of my body will be sent to the local undertaker for advanced warning purposes should his services be required.

Doc Ro will dispense and reorder medications.

Doc Ro will automatically monitor my vital signs on a ½ hourly or more frequent basis – I will wear clothing (washable) with monitors woven into the fabric or printed into the pattern on the fabric. If I choose I may opt for an implant monitoring system.  The vital signs include blood and enzyme monitoring. No more pin pricks to gather blood glucose data.

Based on the data collected Doc Ro will give me advice e.g. sit down David your are over doing it and in certain cases will contact the community nurse or even my GP to warn that I am about to go out of predetermined vital sign parameters.

Doc Ro will be programmed to watch the Internet for peer reviewed publications which deal with advances in say Diabetes or COPD or Prostrate cancer what ever I may be interested in so that I can maintain my role as an expert patient.

Doc Ro will connect to NHS Choices and will help me find services, check symptoms or connect to special interest self hep groups.

Doc Ro will be programmed to ask me questions on a random basis to test shot term memory and cognitive capacity. Doc RO will compute my performance and let my son and daughter know, also my solicitor and doctor in the event that I deteriorate over a predetermined period of time.

Manual Handling Ro.

ManRO (my pet name for this one) will be programmed to help me out of bed, assist me dress and will be voice controlled be me. It will have a Zimmer (walking) frame functionality with sensors e.g. steps / uneven carpets or floors. It will be programmed to stop me falling over.



C 4 Me RO will be worn like specs and will tell me what is in the immediate environment and how far away objects are.

Hygiene Ro will wipe my bum it will not hold my willy though. It will live in the bathroom and clean the toilet pan, shower, bath, sink and floor. It will be connected to the bath chair fitted to the bath tub and will monitor it for safety purposes. The bath tub has taps which are programmed to keep the temperature of water at a safe level. Hygiene Ro will double check just like mummy used to do for me!

I will not have a robotic cleaner since I have a duty to put money into the local labour market and hire in a lady what does (Domestic help). As a result of this policy I get to see and smell another human being now and then which may seem a bit eccentric but then I am English.

Comment by Chris Paton on March 7, 2012 at 9:29pm

Thanks for the comments. David - I think that we won't see one robot doing everything but a range of devices, some more robotic than others, managing an increasing number of tasks to help people stay in their homes longer.

Comment by Rose Harr on March 7, 2012 at 5:53am

Dear Mr. Paton and my friend David,

Thank you for this ! The video is wonderful. I will use it for my company meeting if you dont mind. We are working in Robots also with Artificial Intelligence. Thanks for inspiring us. Rose Harr

Comment by David Sandbach on March 6, 2012 at 10:49pm

Dear Mr. Paton,


I think the robot in the home of older frail people or people with Long Term Conditions is becomming a reality.


The facility provided by Giraff see http://giraff.org/ coupled with manual handling robot technology will provide a butler / clinician combination. The technology and capacity to deliver "reach in" (home) clinical servcies is expanding almost on a daily basis. I think the Scandiavian countries are leaders in this area of socio-technical development.

Intersetingly I cannot find any one develoment which combins the best of all worlds i.e. home delivery of social care and clinical care at and through the same device or set of devices.

From your experience can you please advise if you are aware of any such developments.


Many thanks,


David Sandbach

New forum member. UK.


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