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Singapore wants a self-driving wheelchair by 2017

The idea is to free up nurses to do more important work in hospitals.
Daniel Cooper, @danielwcooper
October 3, 2016
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Singapore is pushing for businesses to develop an autonomous wheelchair that'll convey people around without instruction. The announcement came from Mark Lim, the official in charge of the country's digital services and commercial development division. According to GovInsider, the project is going to run until March 2017 and will harness computer vision, robotics and machine learning to ferry patients around hospitals. The report quotes Lim saying that "we have limited health care workers," and that "nurses are more precious in doing their work [...] than pushing them around in the wheelchair."

But this isn't simply an issue of a savvy government looking for smart solutions to automation but a symptom of a wider malaise. A recent World Bank report detailed that across East Asia, countries like Singapore, South Korea and Japan are heading towards a serious aging crisis. That's where an increasing proportion of the population is aged 65-or-over and requires extra medical care and support compared to their younger contemporaries.

People living longer, and having fewer kids, means that there's an issue around being able to hire enough people to perform essential jobs. Not to mention, of course, that the tax base will inevitably shrink, reducing the money that's available to pay them to do those jobs. That's why these nations are casting an eye towards robotics, with Japan leading the way in automated care for the elderly. Of course, if you've seen Robot and Frank, you'll know that using robots to help older people can only end one way: with a jewelry heist.

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