In Japan there are approximately 5,000 nursing homes that are testing robots as caretakers. With Japan being the best in class in advanced robotics and having such a large population of elderly in need of caretakers, it seems to make sense how they would find themselves coming to this solution. But is it a realistic solution when we consider applying systems thinking? Japan itself may have a culture that is infatuated with robots but other countries may not be as willing to have their elderly family members go into a nursing home being watched by a robot.
This idea of even trusting robots differs greatly between international cultures. In Japan, they have a deep rooted historical culture of animism – the belief that every object has a spirit including man made objects. Yet in America, we have a culture that involves religions such as Christianity implying the taboo nature of praising inanimate objects – idolatry. We also have traditional stories of creation killing creator such as Frankenstein. This in itself creates a barrier to penetrate many international markets.
Focusing on Japan alone, the market is extremely small being that these robots are extremely expensive. Even nursing homes and hospitals will barely be able to afford these robots. However, some of these companies are receiving aid from health insurance firms to help cover some costs of their products. With these products helping caretakers bend and lift residents, creating alerts with sensors when a resident is in need of the lavatory or is about to fall off of a bed, the usefulness of this technology is undeniable. Perhaps Japan is onto something and is entering a blue ocean market where they will lead in medical assisting robotics. Do you think they will be able to find ways to cut the costs and make these robots more accessible and affordable? How do you foresee them overcoming cultural barriers to enter international markets?