Council turns to robot to help transform its social care services

Southend-on-Sea Borough Council is the latest local authority to turn to technology in order to transform its social care delivery.

The Council has unveiled ‘Pepper’, a small ‘humanoid’ robot with the ability to communicate as well as perceive emotions. Pepper is kind, endearing and is currently the first robot with the ability to recognise principal human emotions as well as being able to adapt his own behaviour and make independent decisions.

Pepper is also able to play videos, music, and sensory games that will be used to help dementia sufferers and children with complex disabilities for example.

Whilst many trials and academic studies have taken place into robotics and social care and how they can help services, the Council is leading the way as it is the first local authority to buy and use Pepper under an academic license. It hopes the child-size robot will transform the way it delivers social care services to its local community.

Cllr Lesley Salter, Executive Councillor for Health and Adult Social Care, said: “I have met Pepper and he is very cute, kind, engaging and learning all the time. He is an amazing addition to our equipment team and I really think he will be both popular and successful with staff and our local community, both young and old.

“I am very proud that Southend-on-Sea is leading the way and we are all so excited to see what Pepper and this technology in general can do for our services and help us meet the well-known challenges that the social care sector faces.

Robots may seem like something from the distant future, but the technology is here and we strongly believe that Pepper can have a positive impact on social care as we continue to transform our services and make sure they are fit for the future.

“Pepper has a number of features that we believe will be of real benefit to local people that we care for, and we think he could run a reminiscence group for those with dementia for example, freeing up time for social workers and carers to carry out one to one activity. Academics at universities are also exploring how robotics can help stroke survivors to do physio exercises for example.

“We are absolutely clear that Pepper is not here to replace any of our people, but to complement and help the existing staff we have to deliver a better service by freeing up time for them to deal directly with people for example.”

Sharon Houlden, Director of Adult Services and Housing, added: “This is a tremendously exciting time and I am delighted that we have pro-actively decided to introduce robotics to Southend-on-Sea and are pioneering this technology. It has been on our agenda for some time now, so to get to this stage is an important milestone.

“Pepper will not be used to carry out any direct or personal one to one care, but he can used in a range of settings, including in residential care homes, our sheltered housing schemes and as an information and advice point in relevant buildings. Pepper will also be a champion for the advances that digital and robotic technology and programming can make in a social care setting and he will visit local schools to inspire children to consider a career in the social care, robotic and programming sector.

“This is also about exploration and pushing the boundaries. Whilst the sector has talked about this technology for some time now, we are ambitious and confident enough in Southend-on-Sea to make the first move and become the first local authority to trial this technology. We are convinced that digital technology is where the future lies for social care and we would be delighted to explore this further with other innovative partners.”

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