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Hampshire County Council, in coordination with global transformation consultancy PA Consulting, is trialling innovative collaborative robots – cobots – in the UK care sector for the first time.

Working with Japanese robotics developer Cyberdyne on trialling and launching HAL Lumbar type cobots, Hampshire County Council and PA Consulting wanted to explore how cobots could help with the physical demands faced by stretched care sector staff.

Already in use in Japan, cobots are worn around the lower back and actively support carers in moving objects or supporting people. Using electrodes, cobots can also detect electrical signals between the wearer’s brain and their muscles and convert this into motion.

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The council’s trial of cobots began in February this year and was quickly adapted in response to the COVID-19 crisis, with further investigation of how they could be used to help manage the challenges faced by care workers and informal carers who are supporting vulnerable people during the pandemic.

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Councillor Liz Fairhurst, Hampshire County Council Executive Member for Adult Social Care and Health, said: “Through our partnership with PA Consulting, we are proud to be at the forefront of using technology in care to assist people to live as independently as possible. Our trial of cobots is all about our carers-kit which supports them and makes their job easier.

“While we don’t yet know the extent to which cobots will help transform the delivery of care, early results are very promising, and I am increasingly confident that we will see them play an important role in supporting our care workforce both now, and in the future.”

According to the council, the use of a cobot has shown that care for a person with complex needs, which may have previously required two carers working together, can, in some instances, be delivered effectively by a single individual. This helps alleviate some social distancing concerns but can also support the overstretched care sector.

In Hampshire alone, it is estimated that an extra 6,000 people in caring jobs could be needed over the next five years.

To see the cobots in action, watch the short video below:

As well as trialling the pioneering cobots, Hampshire County Council and a consortium led by PA Consulting have also established an innovative technology-enabled care (TEC) partnership called Argenti Care Technology Partnership.

This unique transformation programme focuses on delivering better outcomes for vulnerable adults by ‘mainstreaming’ TEC.

PA’s transformation programme has resulted in a personalised TEC service for thousands of vulnerable people in Hampshire that 98 percent would recommend, the consultancy outlines.

According to Argenti, the programme has also realised net benefits of £9.8 million over five years for Hampshire County Council and subsequently £2.2 million in two years in Barnet Council.

Steve Carefull, Social Care Technology expert at PA Consulting, commented: “We are delighted to be working in partnership with Hampshire County Council to help them use cobot technology to create a more positive human future for care.

“Now, more than ever is the moment to embrace new technology. Our hope is that cobots could support care workers with the more physically demanding aspects of care, freeing carers up to focus on other aspects of human care or care for another vulnerable person.”

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