Goodbye Charlie and Hello ?

For years we have been reading about robots that can take over many of the menial household and other chores.  I read these reports with a certain scepticism and a “Will it ever happen in my lifetime” question.

Robotic vacuum cleaners have been around for some time but I don’t know anybody who has used one.

Charlie the robot


Well now enter Charlie.  Here in Auckland, a robot named has been ’employed’ as an aged care worker in a rest home.  Charlie is a health care robot and has been working in the village for the past couple of years.

He is designed to do simple tasks such as taking vital signs, reminding patients to take medication  leaving nurses free to focus on more personal care. Work is also being done on applications that will allow Charlie to detect when a patient has fallen or wandered off.  We are also told that Charlie can even chat with the residents albeit simply.

This is part of a three-year study conducted by the University of Auckland exploring seniors’ attitudes toward robots.   Residents of Selwyn Village their families and staff  were interviewed to determine their views on which tasks health care robots could perform and what the mechanical helpers should look like. So Charlie was “born”.   Weighing in at 45 kgs/99 lbs he has a humanoid name but a 26 cm/10.4 inch touch screen instead of a face.

Charlie has now left the village but in his place some 30 robots – in five different shapes and sizes – are being introduced to Selwyn. At this point of their evolution, the Selwyn robots can not only help provide healthcare but also enable Skype voice and video calls over the internet (numbers can be pre-entered and the connection made with one touch of a button). Some have additional brain-fitness programs to help the user’s memory, as well as entertainment in the form of music videos, photographs and games. Patients booked to see the doctor or nurse at Selwyn can interact with the medical centre’s on-site robot before their consultation.

Tubby Robot

"Tubby" - photo David White NZ Listener

One enthusiastic resident has named his robot “Tubby” which was apparently what he was called when he was younger.   And Tubby, as it happens, is rotund, standing about as tall as a domestic vacuum cleaner.

We have all heard and probably used the expression”the inmates are taking over the asylum” well now we can say with some truth “the robots are taking over the village”.

19 responses to “Goodbye Charlie and Hello ?

  1. I guess he could be good company for some. Others may want a more human interaction to socialize with. Amazing what the health world is coming up with. Does he make housecalls?


  2. We have had robot swimming pool vacuum cleaners for 20 years. They move around on the pool floor for an hour or more depending on size at random.


  3. Whenever I listen to my navigation system instead of my instinct, I think: “And this is how the machines will take over.”


  4. I think that’s pretty cool, although I do hope there is plenty of human interaction as well. 🙂


  5. jacquelincangro

    Tubby might be a good addition to senior centers when a person is able to live on his or her own but needs some extra looking after. Tubby could help keep them independent.


  6. Sounds awesome!

    “Hey, Tubby . . . c’mere . . . I want to Skype.”
    “Do not call me Tubby. Tubby is a derogatory name.”
    “Even for a short and stocky robot?”
    “Yes. Please call me Mr. Tubby.”


    • There could be a whole series talking to the robots pleasantly and politely and then the robots conferring with each other to determine who has the most polite owner.


  7. It sounds like they have a good bed-side manner!


  8. Somehow I knew it would come to this. At a time of life when humans need the touch of another human more than anything else and they have to deal with robots.


    • I think it is really to allow those humans who work in the complex to have more “quality time” with the residents. At least I hope they get more quality time.


  9. Judith, I didn’t read any of the other comments, so I’ll be blunt. Thank you for sharing this story, horrific as it is. Doesn’t anyone get the concept that these machines are being built to not only be cheap slaves, replacing well-paid, qualified, caring staffers, but that the residents are being cheated? Surely our seniors are worthy of the human touch. But that’s just me. Enough employment is being slashed… says the daughter of a woman who made a fine living in a steno pool! (Yeah, remember them? Rooms full of employees… now redundant because of the computer.) But the information is fascinating anyway, and your pics are great, so I do thank you very much! Amy


    • Hi Amy. When I first heard about the experiment I was horrified. I imagined all those low paid employees being made redundant because it is the low paid who do most of the menial tasks. But reading more of the research it seems that it is designed to free nurses of some tasks although I do worry at the lack of human interaction during the taking of vital signs etc.
      Thank you for your comment.


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