A Washington, D.C.-area technology company is teaming up with a private duty home care franchise to deploy a new robot at a price many seniors can afford.
Hernon, Virginia-based Comfort Keepers of Reston is rolling out its first model “Rudy,” a multifunctional robot companion designed to help seniors as they age at home. Comfort Keepers of Reston performs services such as injections, wound care and ostomy care and employs about 100 aides throughout Arlington, Fairfax, Leesburg, Herndon and Loudoun County, Virginia.
The robot’s manufacturer, Fairfax-based INF Robotics, piloted Rudy throughout the area over the past year.
Rudy is a smiling robot about as tall as a 10-year-old which can help seniors in a multitude of ways through simple voice commands. The robot can illuminate dark areas, call for help, carry things, set reminders and call family members or loved ones. Nurses or family members can also take control of Rudy and drive it around a senior’s home using an app.
“Rudy is for when the aide is not there,” Comfort Keepers Reston co-owner Toni Reinhart told Home Health Care News. “If Rudy says to you, good morning, it’s time to take your medication, then you have to tell Rudy you took it. If you don’t do that, my nurses are going to see a red alert.”
The robot, which lives in seniors’ homes, costs about $5,000. Clients can buy it outright from INF or lease it on a short-term basis for $100 a day. Each lease period with Comfort Keepers includes three caregiver check-ins per day and lasts from three to 90 days.
For comparison, the national median cost of home health aide services is $21.50 per hour, or $4,099 per month, according to the latest Cost of Care Survey from insurer Genworth Financial (NYSE: GNW).
Adopting a companion robot like Rudy could help solve a longtime problem for Comfort Keeper’s live-in caregivers: having to wake up during the night to help a client who only needs a little assistance. Instead of waking their caregiver for help, some seniors could instead lean on Rudy—literally.
“So many times, [clients] just need to get up at night for a bathroom trip,” Reinhart said. “They can hold onto Rudy while they go to the bathroom, and Rudy can monitor. If anything goes wrong, all they have to do is call for help.”
That’s important because clients who wake their caregiver for assistance in the middle of the night often need to transition to 24-hour care, which is far more complicated and much pricier, Reinhart explained.
“On my side, [24-hour care] is harder to staff,” she said. “And on the client’s side, it’s twice as expensive.”
The growing expense of senior care is why INF Robotics developed Rudy with affordability in mind, according to CEO Anthony Nunez.
For comparison, Paro the robotic therapy seal costs about the same amount of money as Rudy, but has far less functions. Other more complicated companion bots, like the Nao or Pepper models from global technology firm SoftBank Robotics, have some similar functions as Rudy but generally cost much more than $5,000.
In addition to keeping the price low, INF is also looking to make the robot reimbursable through insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.
“Our goal is to make it accessible for every senior to get,” Nunez told Home Health Care News. “We have an affordable design that’s something we can move forward with.”
So far, the startup has piloted Rudy at nine different senior care companies, including the SenCura home care agency in Chantilly, Virginia, and Vinson Hall, an assisted living community in McLean, Virginia. The robots have also been tested with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Nunez said.
To develop the robot, Nunez raised about $150,000 from outside investors and contributed another $100,000 of his own money.
Growing tech trend
Across the U.S., researchers and in-home care companies are increasingly looking at high-tech solutions to age-related problems.
Libertana Home Health, a Beverly Hills, California-based agency, earlier this year launched a pilot program using Amazon’s Echo Dot voice-enabled device. Researchers with the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Canada, are also studying how an emotionally intelligent virtual assistant could help homebound seniors with activities of daily living (ADLs).
Those trends are good news for INF, which hopes to expand throughout the Washington, D.C. region and beyond in the future. The company also has a new Rudy design planned for release in 2018.
“Initially we’re going to be staying here in the Mid-Atlantic, but looking forward, we’ll be going national,” Nunez said. “And as the market shifts going forward, we’ll be able to adapt to that very quickly.”
So far, only one of Comfort Keepers of Reston’s clients uses Rudy, but the agency could look to expand its deployment if the project proves successful.
“I want to see how it goes now that we’re actually deploying him,” Reinhart said. “For me, I just don’t see a disadvantage in being involved in this.”
Written by Tim Regan