Labrador Retriever robot
Labrador Retriever robot helps woman transfer meal to a table , Credit: Labrador Systems

A California technology company hopes to begin deploying Labrador Retrievers into the homes of seniors by the end of 2023 to help them safely age in place. 

These caregiver assistants aren’t canines, however, but rather robots developed by Labrador Systems to help home care firms and senior living facilities fill in caregiving gaps.

Starting in January, the Calabasas, CA-based firm plans to send a number of the robots to about a dozen senior care providers, including On Lok PACE in San Francisco, for an extended pilot before mass production of the assistive robots begins later in the year.

The  robots use 3-D vision to guide themselves around homes, retrieving or carrying objects for people who have mobility or health problems. Older adults can use either voice commands or wireless devices to direct the retrievers.

Labrador Systems co-founder and CEO Mike Dooley told McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse he got the idea for the robots a few years ago after watching his elderly mother struggle to perform simple tasks in her home when her caregiver was not there to help.

“The caregiver might not get there until 9:00, but she wakes up at 6:00 and is cold and wants a blanket or she wants something to eat,” Dooley explained. “[With the robot], we can start filling in the gaps to provide better service.” 

On Lok, a Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), recently piloted two of the labrador retrievers in the homes of two participants. The program had the seniors use the robots to perform simple tasks that didn’t require the skills of a caregiver, such as retrieving medication or a snack. The robots enabled On Lok’s caregivers to devote more time on the participants’ more complex problems and perform at the top of their licenses, according to On Lok Chief Technology and Information Security Officer Mike Webb. 

“That could help our retention because if the caregivers feel they are supported and really do what they are there to do, then we can actually retain them,” Webb told McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse. “That is a big deal because it is so expensive to go out and recruit new caregivers.” 

A number of home care firms are using technology in various ways to help address the caregiver shortage. Artificial intelligence, for example, is being deployed to detect falls and help agencies determine the best way to provide care to seniors. Still, some firms, such as Arosa, view technology more cautiously. Arosa CEO Ari Medoff told McKnight’s Home Care Daily Pulse in a recent Newsmakers Podcast that while technology can help fill care gaps, it cannot replace the caregiver. 

Still, Webb is optimistic the robots will help On Lok expand its PACE program. It currently employees roughly 300 caregivers for its 1,800 participants, but plans to add another 500 participants within the next few years. 

“We really want to have the technology there as we grow to alleviate both the staffing needs and provide great patient care,” he said.