In early November, Luc de Witte and Stephen Potter participated in the annual conference of the Rehabilitation Engineering Society of Korea (RESKO), which took place in Goyang, a city within the Seoul Capital Area.
Together with Korean colleagues they organised a special session on care robotics. Luc represented some of the research done in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, while Stephen discussed differences in the way robotics research is managed and directed in Europe and Korea. This led to an interesting discussion with the public and which continued with colleagues after the session.
Although as might be expected the majority of participants were Koreans, the conference had an international session with invited speakers discussing the mechanisms for and barriers to global collaboration in the field of AT. During this session representatives of a number of Assistive Technology organisations (namely GAATO, the global alliance, AAATE, representing Europe, CREATeAsia, representing the Asia Pacific region, and RESKO, the host organisation) had a panel discussion about how they can better work together under the umbrella of GAATO. And, of course, the discussion extended beyond the session into informal talks among the participants about how to achieve this goal. During this session Luc represented AAATE (Association for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe).
This year the conference programme as a whole had a strong emphasis on care robotics, with further presentations about this topic from Japan and describing aspects of the recently started care robotics programme in Korea. In both countries there is strong push from their respective governments to produce concrete, practical robotic solutions for specific challenges in long-term care. Toileting support, feeding/eating support, mobility support and transfer support from bed to (wheel)chair are examples of these challenges, each addressing a real difficulty in the everyday lives of those with care needs. The Korean government has committed the equivalent of around US$20m to see robotic solutions to these challenges developed into market-ready products. It was noteworthy to see that the proposed solutions are very different – in both form and function – from much of what is currently being developed through care robotics initiatives in Europe. The opportunity to learn from these differences in approach is one of the reasons why international collaboration is important and interesting; and for several of the participants in the conference, it also provided a stimulus to try to organise a global conference on Assistive Technology, bringing together researchers, practitioners and service users from around the world to share their ideas and experiences.