Healthcare Robots: A Comparative EU-US Data Protection Analysis

Research project


Yueh-Hsuan Weng


Population ageing is a critical social problem which Europe and North America have been facing in recent years. Policymakers have introduced many options to solve this problem, including: creating additional positions for foreign caregivers to work, developing an elderly-friendly infrastructure in communities, or deploying robotics technology for supporting elderly people. Through the introduction of healthcare robots, they can support the elderly in walking, climbing, and getting out of bed independently, as well as non-physical support, such as daily communication to provide the elderly with necessary information or just to alleviate loneliness. However, by using robots, it will be easier to acquire large amounts of personal sensitive data and to provide healthcare information to patients repetitively. This may also cause new data protection issues such as (1) agent autonomy: How should we design a framework to avoid inappropriately stored data and be treated or transported by an intelligent agent? (2) Physical embodiment: We may see healthcare robots as the physical extension of an intelligent agent. Suppose there is something wrong about feeding data through the training process of machine learning, such as healthcare robots behaving abnormally, or in the worst case it might cause physical injury to patients. In other words, the consequences are safety critical. So far, no research has been done regarding the application of existing data protection laws to the emerging healthcare robotic technologies. Hence, my motivation is to consider data protection for healthcare robots. In Japan, 27.7% of the population or 35,152,000 people are older than 65 years. The Japanese government has published many policy guidelines to promote the development of healthcare robots. In 2017, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) announced a revision, except to Bed-Transfer Assist and Bath Assist, that new sub-applications have been added to Walking Assist, Excretion Assist, and Monitoring and Communication Assist. The two ministries also suggested the new sixth application called “Nursing Care Business Assist”. These resources and know-how from the “Robot Kingdom” could be useful when I conduct the comparative data protection analysis in the context of the EU and US.