Is There A Robot In Your Future?  Retirement Planning For The 21st Century

by Edi Alvarez, MSc, CFP®


toy robot

Lucy’s retirement story – set in the year 2031

Lucy retired in 2031 after a long career in science and technology. Like anything else, retired life has proven to have its ups and downs, including bouts of depression, moments of forgetfulness, and the side effects of personal illness. But Lucy is pleased that she remains able to live at home and retain a degree of independence.

Each morning at 8 am, CARA (Lucy’s robotic “Care And Recreation Aide”) rouses her from bed to begin her day. Last week, Lucy forgot to turn off the oven and CARA was quick to spot it. The robot often locates her misplaced items. At breakfast, CARA dispenses the medications Lucy needs to combat her illness. Keeping track of all those pills would otherwise be such a complicated chore! CARA monitors her vital signs and immediately transmits unusual fluctuations to her doctor and her daughter, in accordance with Lucy’s wishes.

Lucy doesn’t walk as well as she used to, but she owns a three-wheel scooter that she rides to the local market. CARA clips onto the back of the scooter and goes with her, reminding Lucy of her shopping needs while traveling up and down the isles, carrying her groceries and even paying for purchases. Since CARA has direct access to her account she can help Lucy follow her budget, which is simultaneously monitored by her financial advisor.

Back at home, Lucy routinely teleconferences with her grandchildren using CARA’s interactive screen. The kids can always count on grandma’s help with their science homework.

The evenings can be a bit lonely for Lucy, because so many of her old friends have moved away or passed on – CARA is programmed to sense her mood. At CARA’s suggestion, they’ll read together, work on puzzles or sit and chat on the patio about the latest news, watching the sunset over the lake while one of Lucy’s favorite tunes issues softly from CARA’s speakers. 

Assistive Care Robots – The Reality (2011)

Those are occasions when Lucy reflects on the meaning of the name “Cara” – friend in Gaelic – and hopes her daughter will renew CARA’s lease for another three years!

The assistive care robot envisioned in Lucy’s retirement story isn’t as far fetched as you might think – it is based on current technological efforts. With a crush of baby boomers on the horizon and ensuing pressures on health care, governments and entrepreneurs alike are looking to technology for simple and cost effective solutions. The French firm, Aldebaran Robotics1, has developed a “home assistant” robot named “Romeo” that can entertain, monitor vital signs, keep track of household objects, and perform simple tasks like taking out the garbage. Another French firm, Robosoft2, has manufactured a robot whose interactive screen and basic speech functions enable the user to quickly and easily communicate with health care providers or keep track of schedules. The Georgia Institute of Technology’s Aware Home Research Initiative3 is looking at innovative ways to help the elderly maintain their independence using devices such as the ShareTable™ which helps family members that live far apart remain connected through teleconferencing.

International robotics manufacturers4 who have historically focused on humanoid prototypes and robotics for the automobile industry are increasingly shifting gears, focusing more and more on assistive care technologies. Some of these products are already commercially available, others expected to reach production in five to ten years. The societal and economic imperatives are strong:

The 3 Phases of Retirement

Regardless of which innovations actually come to pass, our imaginary Lucy is likely to experience three distinct phases during retirement.9

Phase One is the most active phase and is very similar to pre-retirement in terms of physical and mental capabilities. If our retiree continues to work, it would likely be part-time or as a volunteer. She could travel, write a novel, trace family history or pursue any postponed dream. This phase can last many years, or (sorry to say) get skipped altogether if personal health issues or family care problems arise. During Phase One, a robot could assist with home care, the performance of commonplace tasks, or just to help Lucy stay connected and mentally active.

Phase Two begins when there is a decline in physical or mental capacity, or both. This phase can begin at any age. Retirees generally cope by simplifying and/or putting off complex decisions. Diminished driving ability, for example, is often ignored because it is linked to independence. Without earlier planning this phase can involve major decisions that many retirees are simply unprepared for; such as, the sale of their home, the move to new (often smaller) accommodation or into a retirement community.

During Phase Two, health care becomes difficult to manage. Currently, most support comes from spouses, family, friends and paid assistants to help make or implement decisions. Travel requires extensive planning to accommodate physical and mental limitations – cruises become a popular option. The type of support required in this phase is not always covered through long term care insurance. As with Lucy, a robot could provide ongoing support when family, friends or paid professionals are not immediately available. Potentially, the retiree can extend their remaining years at home. As in the story, Lucy is able to maintain a degree of independence through CARA, her support providers intervening only when necessary through monitoring provided by the robot.

Phase Three is often triggered by a major health event that can leave a retiree with significant physical or mental limitations.  Retirees in this phase require daily supervision, including assistance with everyday activities and regular medical attention. This level of care is usually provided by family, community groups and/or third-party providers. If correctly purchased, long term care insurance can cover many of the costs. Comprehensive support by a third-party can be expensive, however, and is typically provided within the scope of assisted living communities or a nursing home.

Decisions on where to spend the rest of one’s life can be very stressful and require complex analysis at a time when the retiree could be cognitively compromised.7 In Lucy’s case, she has prudently established a trusted fiduciary to help guide her financial and health decisions as physical and mental abilities decline. 

Visualize, build a plan, and then adjust

 Assuming present trends in technology continue, then YES there will be a robot in your future (perhaps, even before you reach retirement). When you draw up your retirement plan, take a moment to consider how you’ll transition through the three phases using all available tools. Create a vision, build a plan and then adjust as new tools become available.



1. Alderbaran Robotics: 

2. Robosoft:

3. Georgia Institute of Technology’s Aware Home Research Initiative:

4. Solon, Olivia (March 2011).  Ageing populations will drive domestic robot innovation. From:

5. Rousson, V., and Paccaud, F. (2010).  A set of indicators for decomposing the secular increase of life expectancy.  Population Health Metrics, 8(1)

6.  Clarity - Aging In Place in America Survey. (2007)  From:

7. Minnesota Department of Health (Fall 2005).  Healthy Aging and Chronic Disease.  From:

8. Laibson, David (June 2011). Presentation at Morningstar Conference:  Why Age Matters for Financial Decision-Makers.  Summary available at:

9. Society of Actuaries (2008).  The Phases of Retirement and Planning for the Unexpected: 2007 Risk and Process of Retirement Survey Report.  From:


It is OK to reproduce this article, but any copy must include the following citation:

Is There A Robot In Your Future? - Retirement Planning for the 21st Century. Copyright © 2011 by Edi Alvarez, CFP®. First published AWIS Magazine, Summer 2011, vol 42, no. 3


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