A new robotic device currently in the pilot stage is aimed at helping those with mobility issues—and also acts as a useful backup for caregivers. Known as the “Labrador Retriever,” the new device can provide assistance by transporting both large and small items for older adults and their caregivers.
Equipped with advanced 3D vision, obstacle sensors and a navigation system, the device can be used when needed, or users can pre-plan by setting the time and location of when and where they want it to operate.
Southern California-based Labrador Systems manufactures the device, and it has partnered with Columbus, Ohio-based Nationwide for its multi-state pilot program.
“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,” said Nationwide Chief Innovation and Digital Officer Chetan Kandhari.
Labrador Systems CEO Mike Dooley added that the program is designed to deliver a new alternative in assistive technology to a larger audience:
“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.”
Product receives early positive user feedback
Madge Weiss, a retired occupational therapist, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis several years ago. A member of the pilot program since 2021, she’s had the Labrador Retriever in her home for approximately 12 weeks.
“I use the Retriever to assist with household tasks, such as laundry, carrying meals, and keeping critical items within reach,” she said. “Independence is very important to me, and using the Retriever freed up more of my time to explore personal interests, such as reading, spending time with my grandchildren, and pursuing my love of art.”
Weiss first heard of the device via a Facebook post looking for participants in the pilot program.
“Given my personal needs and my former career as an occupational therapist, I was intrigued enough to find out,” she said.
Weiss said she’s impressed by the Retriever’s ease of use, and finds it “intuitive” as she incorporates the device into her daily tasks:
“It’s about the size of a side table, and I found it most helpful to have next to me during the day.”
Device still faces obstacles to widespread adoption
Chris Crain, MSW, executive director of the Stamford Senior Center in Stamford, Connecticut, said she believes the device makes the most sense when it’s used in a professional setting:
“While I’m sure it can help some individuals, I think it’s very expensive for the average senior, programming it will be a challenge for many seniors and I don’t see it working in the average senior’s home unless it’s an open space, one-floor home,” she said.
Two of Crain’s clients, both in their 70s and with physical limitations, acknowledged that while it may be beneficial for some, they also observed it looks complicated to program for someone who’s not tech-savvy. And because it requires a lot of open space to maneuver, it would present a hazard for them.
Next steps for Labrador
Following the Labrador Retriever’s introduction at the Consumer Electronics Show this past January in Las Vegas, the two companies have been on a tour across the United States, with stops so far in Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan, meeting with professionals in a variety of industries serving older adults, including home health, insurance, senior living, skilled nursing and more.
The tour is designed to allow the companies to better evaluate how the product can better support seniors and caregivers in a variety of settings and scenarios.