Nationwide Insurance is looking into the future of assistive elderly care by investing in an early-stage robotics company.
The insurer is joining forces with Southern California-based Labrador Systems to launch a multi-state pilot program that will explore the utility of the latter’s aptly named Labrador Retriever – a personal assistive robot designed to carry heavy loads while keeping smaller items within reach.
The Retriever robot has advanced 3D vision, obstacle sensors, and navigation capabilities, which allows it to create a set route around the user’s house, stopping at key locations where users need the robot’s storage capabilities. It can operate either on-demand or on a preset schedule.
"As a technology-focused mutual with a mission to protect our customers over the course of a 40-to-50-year relationship, Nationwide is actively thinking about how our members' needs change and how we can help them stay safe," said Nationwide chief innovation and digital officer Chetan Kandhari. "We think there is great potential in the assistive robots that Labrador has developed and we are excited to learn how technology like this can serve our members who want to live independently, as well as help their family caregivers who assist them."
Nationwide’s investment in assistive robotics comes as the percentage of the US population over 65 years of age increases. Citing the US Census Bureau, the insurer noted that in 2021, 54 million people in the United States were 65 or older. It is anticipated that by 2030, the population of those over 65 will increase to 74 million.
The insurer also cited its 2021 Nationwide Long-Term Care Consumer Survey, which found that 88% of survey participants said that it is more important than ever to stay at home for long-term care, and that 66% of adults are worried they will be a burden to their family as they grow older.
"Our 2021 pilots demonstrated the deep need for practical help with activities in the home, as the Retriever quickly became a regular part of our users' daily lives," commented Labrador Systems CEO Mike Dooley. "With Nationwide's support, we are able to expand our pilot programs to work with multiple organizations across the country and allow more people to experience the Retriever firsthand and provide feedback on their individual needs."
According to Kandhari, Nationwide’s innovation team will sponsor Labrador's cross-country tour, which will study the capabilities of the Retriever robot in a variety of use-cases such as senior living communities, post-acute rehab programs and individual homes. The first leg of the tour will see the robot used in Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan.