ScienceDaily (Feb. 3, 2011) — Surgeons of the future might use a system that recognizes hand gestures as commands to control a robotic scrub nurse or tell a computer to display medical images of the patient during an operation.
Purdue industrial engineering graduate student Mithun Jacob uses a prototype robotic scrub nurse with graduate student Yu-Ting Li. Researchers are developing a system that recognizes hand gestures to control the robot or tell a computer to display medical images of the patient during an operation. (Credit: Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
I believe, partly based the insightful comments given at Nursing Advocacy, that it is not a good idea to replace human scrub nurses with robotic ones. It would be much better to solve the shortage of nurses). In this case, there is so much a scrub nurse does, so much more than a robot can do, for at least the next fifty years or so.
But there will be a publication in the Communications of the ACM soon. That will be an interesting read
Update: There is already a nice video about the story on the ACM site (here).
Internet polls. Hardly reliable, but sometimes interesting to read. The Dutch website Zorgvisie held a poll about: ‘More robot helpers by the bed. An improvement for healthcare or not?’. The result: 73 procent of the 371 responding visitors of Zorgvisie.nl felt it was not an improvement. But what does this mean exactly?
It pays to have a look at the cause of the poll, which was news (i.e. on Zorgvisie) about a German ‘Helper Robot’, the Casero (see picture). There are more of such robots under development (e.g. Care-o-Bot). One could describe them as driving carts, with clever bits and pieces, that can serve drinks and food for example.
The Casero Helper Robot (source: Zorgvisie)
According to the researchers developing him the idea behind Casero is (source: Robotics Wire):
When the Duisburg researchers observed the care workers’ daily routines and tasks, they soon noticed that there was seldom enough time to exchange a few kind words with patients. Staff shortages were everywhere. While the robots run errands and allow games to be played on their displays, care workers could devote more of their time to caring for the elderly.
Well, that line of reasoning is interesting, but illogical if buying an maintaining robots is as expensive as hiring people. Then it should be seen as replacement. For Zorgvisie also report:
The robot is hardly cheap. “Casero is as expensive as a fulltime hire”, says Volker Bessler of the care home in Stuttgart where the first service robot was tested.
In this light, it is understandable that most people rejected the idea that it constitutes an improvement. And then we have not even discussed all the things the robot can not do.
At CES 2011, look who’s there
It’s Fujitsu’s Robot Teddy Bear!
For about two years Fujitsu has been displaying this robot teddy bear, sometimes named Care Bear, Motion Bear or E-Bear, at various tradeshows. They tell us it is ‘still in development’ or ‘in a concept phase’. It does seem to be responding better every time I see it. In any case it manages to win the hearts of many already.
The area of (useful) application for this robot is comparable to that of Paro. Fujitsu Labs develops this “social robot with a personality” for use in “robot therapy”, for example for patients that suffer from dementia, says Fujitsu. The bear can display basic emotions through animatronics and react to its surroundings.
Sensors enable the robot teddy bear to respond to external stimuli; it is equipped with thirteen sensors (e.g. a webcam, touch sensors, etc.) in different locations on its body. The bear has a camera in its nose and machine vision to recognize human shapes, faces and (waving) gestures. It can see a person nearby and, for example, turn in their direction and make eye contact. If you wave at it, the bear waves back. It als senses being patted or stroked in various places and can respond, for example, by waking up (from sleeping) or with sounds. It has eight touch sensors in its body, two sensors in its arms detect when someone is shaking its hands, and gyroscopes and accelerometers detect when the bear is being handled.
The bear has twelve ‘degrees of freedom’ (joints): it can move both arms and legs, tilt its head, and move its eye brows and ears. Combining these basic motions, the robot bears are said to capable of up to 300 movement patterns including raising its arms, looking downwards and kicking its feet. The movement are combined with display of “emotions” to signal happiness, sadness and anger, says Fujitsu. And since the robot can be connected to the PC, new movements can be recorded and displayed.
The bear can apparently talk with the voice of a young boy, using a speech synthesizer and a built-in speaker. Thus, the sound can be synchronised with the robot’s other behavior. But, so far, I only heard him making strange giggly noises. It would be good if Fujitsu created some more appropriate teddy bear sounds, whatever tose should be (in this respect, Paro has a clear advantage, as it makes very nice, affectionate baby seal sounds).
What makes these robots interesting, says Fujitsu, is that they are interactive and real, in a world that is full of screens. The bears can be played with physically and are likely to integrate easily into people’s lives, says the company.
Fujitsu hopes its teddy bear can help develop “robot therapy,” a way to use robots to help people overcome challenges or problems, comparable to how “animal therapy” is used today, only without the hassle of having to clean up or deal with grumpy animals. As of 2010, Fujitsu has been testing it at several medical institutions, and it seems that the face recognition isn’t working as reliably as they want, delaying commercialization.
Well, hopefully we will be seeing more from this robot teddy bear soon when it comes available as a product. I think Paro could use a little competition in the market, don’t you?
Perhaps robotic eating aids are not as exciting as Paro or other social, interactive robots, but they can make a huge difference for both clients and caregivers. Eating is important and we do it frequently, so if a client with loss of arm function has to depend on a caregiver to feed them it is a great loss of independency. Sharing a meal is also a social event and not being able to join in as an equal partner is a loss of social participation. Thus, robotic eating aids, that can (partially) give back the ability to eat independently and to join a family or group dinner not only relieve a time consuming burden from caregivers, but also add to clients’ quality of life.
Below is a collection of movies of robotic eating aids. Many of these are readily available, also in the Netherlands, and are even paid for by healthcare insurance companies.
More information, for example about offers, suppliers and financial arrangements in the Netherlands and Belgium, can be found at Handy-Wijzer.
The company Focal Meditech, based in Tilburg, has signed an agreement with the Danish Technology Institute, the European distributor of Paro, that gives Focal distribution rights for the Benelux countries (the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg). Previously Paro could not be ordered direclty in the Netherlands; now, delivery, with service and guarantees by an ackowledged Dutch provider of healtcare aids is possible (see Focal’s company movie).
A good thing for the eldercare in the Netherlands, where tens of Paro’s are already in use but where a proper distribution chain was still lacking.
Unfortunately, some things did not pass the editing very well:
The Nao robot is now controlled manually (by Saskia Robben in this case). Responding autonomously is still in development.
Nao is used within TNO moslty for children with diabetes, in the ALIZ-E project. It functions on the one hand as a play buddy and on the other hand as a docters assistant reminding the child about taking medication and keeping his food journal. For that setting the emotional displays were developed. The idea is that some emotional intelligence (recognizing and showing emotions and adapting to a child’s personality) can help Nao with its ‘job’. For more info contact Rosemarijn Looije or Mark Neerincx of TNO. For early results, see article.
The scientific results with Paro are presented by Shibata and Wada (2010) in Robot Therapy – A New Approach for Mental Healthcare of the Elderly (journal: Gerontology).
An elderly lady, a very sweet lady with dementia, and here daughter gave permission to film how she interacts with Paro and how it benefits her. It was a very nice and interesting morning for us and for the elderly people living in her group home in Amsterdam. We brought along Nao Lola on our visit. You can see an impression in the video above.
The robot baby seal Paro has been used in the Netherlands for some years already. Tese movies provide an overview of the situation in recent years. It is clear that many people still have to get used to the idea, but also that meeting Paro in real life easily wins people over.