Technology: Measuring the Impact of Socially Assistive Robots in Nursing Homes in Japan

Measuring the Impact of Socially Assistive Robots in Nursing Homes in Japan: Beyond the Dichotomy of Technology and the Human Touch

Naonori Kodate

School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice, University College Dublin (UCD),

La Fondation France-Japon de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) &

Universal Accessibility Ageing Research Centre, Japan


The potential benefits of ICT and assistive technologies (ATs) in health and social care have been widely highlighted in North America, East Asia and Europe. A recent cover of Time magazine (25 October 2019), featuring Stevie the Robot, developed by a team in Trinity College Dublin and piloted in the Army Distaff Federation in the USA, amply demonstrates the fascination and expectation for carebots beyond national boundaries. While evidence began to be reported on the effects of robotics-aided care on older people, impacts of using ATs in care settings have not been sufficiently evaluated, particularly the experience of older people and care professionals. More attention should be paid to organisational culture (safety, quality and leadership), and its relationship with the human-technology interface.

Frennert and Östlund (2014) raised seven points of concern in the use of social robots for older people. Some of these are: the role of robots in older people’s lives; older people’s acceptance of robots; ethical implications of using robots in caring for older people; research methodology; and technical determinism versus social construction of social robots. Bearing these in mind, the author has been involved since 2016 in several international research projects, teaming up with researchers in the fields of life sciences (nursing and medicine), mechanical engineering, and social sciences (social anthropology, social work and social policy), and who are based at UCD, Chiba University, the Universal Accessibility Ageing Research Centre in Tokyo and other institutions in Finland and France.

The presentation at the IGS Scientific Meeting 2019 shared findings from recent studies in Japan. A multi-centre, quasi-experimental project investigated the impact of communicative robots with infra-red radiation monitoring and alert functions on older people and care professionals in nursing homes (Obayashi, Kodate and Masuyama, 2018). Preliminary findings from another three-country (Finland, Ireland and Japan) questionnaire project were also presented. Currently, the author is leading a two-year Toyota Foundation-funded project entitled ‘Harmonisation towards the establishment of Person-centred, Robotics-aided Care System (HARP: RoCS)’, with researchers in France, Hong Kong, Ireland and Japan. The key research questions are: what kind of impact socially assistive robots have on older people’s lives in residential nursing homes, and to what extent cultural dimensions affect our interactions with robots.

The presentation concluded with some of the challenges and future questions that we need to address to ensure ICT solutions can provide better care for older people and conditions for care professionals and family carers. It highlighted the two major key issues for further research and discussions: (1) ethics, law, and organisational culture and governance concerning the use of socially assistive robots in care settings, and (2) the impact of socially assistive robots on professionals’ skills, education and training, and ultimately, the model of integrated care and services that should enhance older people’s autonomy and quality of life. 

* The research presented has been supported in part by the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development, the Japanese Council of Senior Citizens’ Welfare Services, the Japan Keirin Autorace Foundation, the Pfizer Health Research Foundation and the Toyota Foundation.


  • Frennert, B. and Östlund, S. (2014) Review: Seven Matters of Concern of Social Robotics and Older People, International Journal of Social Robotics, 6(2), 299-310.
  • Obayashi, K., Kodate, N., Masuyama, S. (2018). Socially Assistive Robots and Their Potential in Enhancing Older People's Activity and Social Participation. Journal of American Medical Directors Association. 19(5):462-463