15 May 2024

Technical assistance and AI have become an integral part of our everyday lives

Acceptance among people with assistance needs is growing steadily

Intelligent technologies have long since found their way into our everyday lives: They control our household appliances and support our mobility. Smartphones and tablets are indispensable helpers for organising, writing, drawing, filming, making music and translating.

A man (right) and a woman (left) stand at a trade fair stand and look at a care robot. The man demonstrates the robot to the woman and shows her various functions.
Robots can assist with routine tasks such as dressing, eating or moving around, thus relieving carers of routine tasks.

Medicine has long been utilising technological developments to make everyday life easier for people with disabilities. Adapted electronic systems control wheelchairs, gripping arms, speech computers and home technology, exoskeletons provide targeted support for people when walking, training devices supplement therapeutic programmes and there is still more to come: brain interfaces as interfaces between the brain and computer will transmit brain signals and enable computer-controlled actions in the future and are already being successfully tested.

Can humanoid robots compensate for the shortage of skilled labour in the future and support people with disabilities in their everyday lives? How do those affected rate this technical development and how willing are they to be helped by technology?

Portrait of Oliver Straub
Portrait of Oliver Straub (photo credits: Oliver Straub, private)

As a trained peer counsellor at the Fördergemeinschaft der Querschnittgelähmten in Deutschland e. V., a long-standing partner of REHAB, Oliver Straub advises people with disabilities on the topics of personal assistance and personal budgets. He confirms: "Many people with disabilities have a great desire to lead an independent life. Technical aids offer relief and humanoid robots could help as personal assistants with daily tasks such as getting dressed, eating, drinking, taking medication and personal hygiene - always ready and individually configurable."

As a user of an electric wheelchair with assistive control and various technical programmes, Oliver Straub is open to these innovations. After an accident, he suffered paraplegia in his cervical vertebrae and was suddenly dependent on constant assistance. He reports:

Oliver Straub and his personal assistant on a viewing platform. Another small viewing platform can be seen behind them. There is forest all around and a beautiful view of a town in the background.
Oliver Straub and his personal assistant on a viewing platform, (photo credits: Oliver Straub, private)

"I want to organise my own life - I can't do that without round-the-clock personal assistance. As a result, I always have to deal with several people whose work I have to coordinate - including the problems of absences due to illness and holidays. Of course, I really appreciate their help and company, but I could definitely imagine having a humanoid robot to help me around the house so that I can reduce the time my personal assistant is on duty and have more time for myself."

Oliver Straub has overcome his scepticism towards humanoid robots and can imagine technical assistance in the household: "The example of ChatGPT shows how quickly technology is developing and what is already possible in terms of personal interaction. It comes very close to a real conversation. Why shouldn't this also be possible with a humanoid robot and care activities in the near future?"

Personal experience, age and the technical affinity of the people affected play a role in the assessment of assistance systems. There is a great need for counselling on the path to the greatest possible independence and autonomy.

There is often a lack of imagination and positive examples that more is possible. "As a co-founder of the Assistenztreff network, I can advise other people and help them find a suitable assistant to help them lead a more self-determined life," says Oliver S