Robots Could Be Key To Managing Australia's Ageing Population

Two Aussie sisters pave the way for better communities by building robots.

What you need to know
  • Sue and Andra Keay are using robots to help design the future of aged care and communties
  • The Keay sisters believe getting women into STEM careers is a tough but worthy task
  • Robot 'Pepper' was showcased at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Brisbane

Finding the best way to manage Australia's aging population is a big challenge, but robots could be part of the solution.

Sisters Sue and Andra Keay both work in social robotics, where they develop robots with the aim of improving the lives of workers and communities.

Sue's work involves establishing the very first Australian 'robotics roadmap' to understand how robots could complement society and help improve aged care facilities in the future.

With Australian aged care residents receiving 88 minutes less care per day than recommended, Sue told Ten Eyewitness News that robots would be able to take mundane and time consuming tasks from health care workers, so they could focus on caring for residents.

"Something as simple as acting as a concierge, so telling people how they can find their way to a particular room," Sue said.

"That will become more common in the future because there are a number of features of social robots that make them so they can ... take the burden of some time consuming tasks from our health care professionals."

Robots like pepper could be companions for people with Dementia. Image: Sue Keay.

Sue also said robots could be used as companions for people with Dementia, where the unfailing patience of a machine could reduce possible loneliness.

"Yes[robots could be used as companions], as long as the robots are developed in a respectful way and with the input of the community where they are going to be deployed," she said.

"Robots are infinitely patient, so they can keep answering the same question over and over again and it doesn't matter to the robot, they will just keep going."

Andra's work in the Silicon Valley focuses on using robotics to improve the lives of communities in developing nations, where machines are being used to reduce 'the dull, the dirty and the dangerous' jobs in the work force.

"I tell robotics companies ... think about the jobs where you can't hire people, you just can't find them because you don't want to do the job. Think about the tasks in everybody's jobs that are dangerous, that cause injuries ... and automate those ones," Andra said.

Sisters Sue (left) and Andra (right) had to work hard to get to where they are. Image: Sue Keay.

While the sisters' work is remarkable, so too is the story of how two women from the same family rose to success in a male-dominated industry.

As women, both Sue and Andra say robotics wasn't an easy industry to get a start in.

"I wanted to be an astronaut when I was young, who didn't?," Andra told Ten Eyewitness News.

"But NASA didn't take women so there were a lot of obstacles to being in tech fields and that actually just made me more stubborn."

And this stubbornness is what makes woman excellent employees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) industries according to Andra, because they had to work hard to be recognised.

"I say to people that if you are looking to hire a top-class person then look to the women because they are going to be three times better than anyone else around because they had to work three times harder and be three times  smarter before they got to the same level."

Meet Pepper, a part of the future of aged care. Image: Sue Keay.

Sue and Andra spoke at the 2018 International Conference on Robotics and Automation that kicked off in Brisbane on Monday.

The pair showcased 'Pepper'-- a robot that has been built specifically to interact with humans and would be used in aged care.

3000 of the world's biggest robot experts have descended on Brisbane for the Conference on Robotics and Automation Robot. It's the first ever time the conference has been held in Australia.

The week-long event offers presentations and seminars for robot enthusiasts hosted by the world's leaders in robotics and engineering.

Mechatronics engineer Ryan Steindl said hosting the conference in Australia is an excellent chance for local inventors to showcase their robotic creations.

"It is an amazing opportunity to show off our equipment and our robots to the world," he said.

Some of the big attractions for the 2018 event include machines built by the CSIRO's Data 61 and new and improved drone technology.

Machines Descend Upon Brisbane For Robotics Conference

While drones are the big attraction this year, the CSIRO's Magnapods 'Magneto' goes where drones can't -- into tight spaces and even climb walls -- perfect for oil rigs and gas cylinders.

Yes, there's been talk of robots taking over both human jobs and lives, but the Keay sisters don't see them as a threat. They say robots will be a helping hand in the future, solving the problems we can't manage ourselves.

But one problem we can work on is collaboration between technology industries so progress is fast and beneficial.

"I think the missing piece of the puzzle that we don't have at the moment is to get all pieces of the technology sector together ,"Sue said.

"So to have your robotics working with your cloud services and artificial intelligence ... so it's about putting all those pieces of the puzzle together."