Care robots for the supermarket shelf: a product gap in assistive technologies

Blackman, Tim (2013). Care robots for the supermarket shelf: a product gap in assistive technologies. Ageing and Society, 33(5) pp. 763–781.



The literature on the development of assistive robots is dominated by technological papers with little consideration of how such devices might be commercialised for a mass market at a price that is affordable for older people and their families as well as public services and care insurers. This article argues that the focus of technical development in this field is too ambitious, neglecting the potential market for an affordable device that is aleady in the realm of the ‘adjacent possible’ given current technology capabilities. It also questions on both ethical and marketing grounds the current effort to develop assistive robots with pet-like or human-like features. The marketing literature on ‘really new products’ has so far not appeared to inform the development of assistive robots but has some important lessons. These include using analogies with existing products and giving particular attention to the role of early adopters. Relevant analogies for care robots are not animals or humans but useful domestic appliances and personal technologies with attractive designs, engaging functionality and intuitive usability. This points to a strategy for enabling mass adoption - which has so far eluded even conventional telecare - of emphasising how such an appliance is part of older people’s contemporary lifestyles rather than a sign of age-related decline and loss of independence.

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