China to use robots to take care of its aging population

The machines aim to address a critical shortage of health and social care workers.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Illustration of an elderly woman interacting with a robot.jpg
Illustration of an elderly woman interacting with a robot.


What do you do if you have an aging population and too few people to take care of them? China is turning to robots to solve this crisis, according to an article by Sixth Tone published on Wednesday.

“As the number of elderly grows but care resources don’t keep up, smart machines are needed to reduce people’s workload,” Gao Hongjun, the director of a senior care center in downtown Shanghai, told the news outlet. 

“Otherwise, everyone will get tired and be unable to take care of the elderly well.”

Chinese policies indicate that there should be one care worker for every four residents inside senior care facilities. However, only 320,000 carers are currently serving the country’s 8.1 million care home residents. This means over 1.7 million carers are missing in the nation.

Robots are touted as one solution to this problem but their costs still remain high creating an obstacle to their widespread implementation. 

Obstacles to adoption

Today, there are over 100 Chinese robotics startups specializing in rehabilitation, companionship, and nursing robots but most have yet to achieve mass production. This is partially due to the fact that local authorities are not providing enough funding to roll out robots in nursing homes at scale.

And nursing homes are simply not profitable enough to afford many robots on their own. Sunshine Nursing Home is a private care facility in the eastern Anhui province whose co-founder, surnamed Dong, struggles with this issue

“If we invest money in smart devices, our prices will go up and fewer people will come in,” told Sixth Tone Dong.

Not all is lost however. Analysts have great hopes for the long-term prospects of China’s smart health care industry. A research firm in Guangdong province released a report predicting the market would “explode” over the next decade and by 2027 would be more than three times larger than it was in 2021.

Gu Jie, CEO of Shanghai Fourier Intelligence, a robotics company that specializes in rehabilitation devices, claims the report is likely correct in its estimates.

“No matter where the elderly live, they all hope their limbs can be flexible and their mental state improved,” told Sixth Tone Jie. 

“And after purchasing the devices, multiple people can use them, which greatly improves efficiency. This is exactly what AI is about.”

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