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Robot SARA continues as a start-up after successful pilot phase

Care group Elde Maasduinen tests care robot SARA. Residents and employees of Park Vossenberg in Kaatsheuvel, part of the care group, have already been introduced to the new employee. What do they notice from SARA? And can a care robot reduce the workload?

SARA is short for Social & Autonomous Robotic health Assistant. The care robot has been developed in a European EIT Digital Innovation Consortium. SARA was tested in two care institutions: in addition to a pilot at Zorggroep Elde Maasduinen, SARA was used at a nursing home in Finland. Both are involved as test locations in the SARA development. The results so far have been so encouraging that SARA continues as a startup.

As director of innovation, Jef Mol is responsible for care innovation and renewal within Zorggroep Elde Maasduinen. One of the innovations is the care robot. “The great thing about SARA, unlike a number of other robots on the market, is that we can set profiles per resident. SARA can, for example, show a personal profile for a resident based on NFC recognition or facial recognition. The facial recognition function is not yet in use for privacy reasons.”

Another difference with similar other robots: SARA can move and be used independently. Mol: “No employee is required to operate the robot. Because SARA has so many sensors, a lot is possible in terms of programming. The first scripts have now been tested for autonomous driving through the nursing home. That was very promising and went very well. ”

A lot of potential

According to Mol, the elderly and family are also enthusiastic. Nursing employees also see a lot of potential. That enthusiasm is sometimes in sharp contrast to public reactions in the sense of “We don’t do this to our older people,” or “I hope my mother or father never has to experience this”. Mol: “We see that we need to pay a lot of attention to the ethical aspects and also that we really have to work intensively together with residents and family members. Robots can be a nice addition to warm care and eliminate or automate unnecessary tasks in care. In this way it can make a small contribution to sustainable care for our elderly. But technology is of course not only the solution, we as a society will have to live and live together differently. ”

Time saved because of the robot?

The promise of care robots is great, but the reality is that caring tasks and autonomous action are often not yet possible for many robots. Robot SARA can keep a resident busy and entertained by reading stories, showing videos, doing exercises or word games or playing music. In the residential care centre in Kaatsheuvel, SARA is programmed with stories about De Efteling, so that care residents can recall memories. SARA can also ask a resident how it is and give feedback to healthcare professionals, for example if ‘pain’ is mentioned more often than usual.

Mol looks beyond this level of “entertainment only” and sees potential to reduce workload. “SARA can remind residents of activities, and also has speech recognition. This means that SARA will soon be able to answer frequently asked questions or, for example, be approached and answered by people in the hallway. ” According to Mol, that is not yet the case and those scripts have yet to be developed, but technology does offer those possibilities.

Public-private cooperation

The care robot was developed in a European EIT Digital innovation consortium. One of the companies within this is the Dutch company Bright Cape. In addition to the Dutch company, Forum Virium Helsinki, GIM Robotics from Finland and Curamatik and the Technische Universität Berlin from Germany participate in the innovation consortium. In 2020, SARA will continue as start-up SARA, a spin-off from Bright Cape that also heads the consortium.

The focus of SARA is now mainly on elderly care, and may expand to hospital care in the future. For the time being, development is focused on perfecting SARA, says Emmy Rintjema, activity leader SARA at Bright Cape. “We want to make the interaction smoother and we want to investigate whether and how we can let SARA move independently.”

With a one-year trial period and a European subsidy, the care robot SARA has been brought in at Zorggroep Elde Maasduinen. According to Mol, the public-private partnership with Bright Cape is the way to test and develop healthcare innovations such as SARA. The Eindhoven company has started the same pilot in the nursing home in Helsinki. “We will be working closely together in the coming year: Bright Cape reserves a number of development days and every month we get a new release on the robot. We then immediately test them in practice. ”

Mol concludes: “It is very nice that we can develop this together. That’s how we get a robot that really matters in our nursing homes.