Here is an interesting new robotic surgery assistant: the ARTAS™ System. It was recently cleared by the FDA (read more). ARTAS apparently helps with something called ‘hair follicle harvesting’, according to Restoration Robotics, the company that invented and produces the system.
The ARTAS System (Source: Restoration Robotics, Inc.)
The procedure is as follows. The client first sits in the Artas chair, and then his hair is millimetered. Then, a robotic arm equipped with a camera initiates ‘small dermal punches’ and harvests individual follicles. This is under the control of a doctor. The follicles, which are later transplanted by hand, will start producing their own hair over months.
Here is a paper (PDF) in the Dermatology Times that reports the results of trying out a prototype of the device. Apparently, no sutures or bandages were required and using ARTAS is quicker and less invasive than other hair transplantation techniques, like strip harvesting where a strip of skin with hair is transplanted to a balding area. The company expects to reach extraction rates to 750 to 1,000 follicular units per hour. In addition, it may require fewer staff (although robot support engineers should probably be on standby).
A very interesting, ‘social robotics’ study recently gave us all some nice resultats. Apparently people do not always appreciate being touched by a robot.
Somewhat surprisingly the results from one of the experiments showed that it matters why the robot touches you. If people think (because they are told) that it is because they will be washed then that is okay, but if the robot touched someone to comfort them then they found it much less agreeable, even though the touch movement was exactly the same. Apparently instrumental touching is more acceptable than social touching. And the perceived intention is what matters, according to one the researchers, Charlie Kemp. However, if you compare this result to the positive responses generally reported with the huggable robot Paro, then I think that this result may depend to a large extent on the actual appearance and exact behaviour of the robot. In this case the apperance and behaviour of the robot, Cody, may have created a mismatch with an intention to provide a comforting touch. In other words, the robot does not look like or act like it is designed to provide a comforting touch, it looks like it is designed to clean people (which is exactly what it was designed for).
In addition, the results showed that people did not like it if the robot announced that it was going to touch them, perhaps, as indicated by the researchers, because the voice startled them. Here, I think it is very important how a robot speaks exactly. If it speaks with a moving mouth and facial gestures, then this comes across as if the voice is coming from the robot. If a robot has a face and mouth that are able to ‘speak’ then people may actually expect a voice. But, if a robot speaks ‘out of nowhere’, for example if it merely plays a soundbite through a speaker, then this can easily startle people. It is a disembodied voice. So, again I think that follow-up experiments should be done to provide more conclusive results (as also suggested by the researchers). In a way this resembles the previous critical remark: the robot does not look like it was designed to talk to people so it may come across as a mismatch if it does talk.
But, all in all, this sort of research is very useful and more of it is needed to support the succesful introduction of healthcare robotics.
Ben Robins, a researcher who has already done a lot of work studying how robots might benefit children with autism, is quoted as saying:
“Children with autism don’t react well to people because they don’t understand facial expressions,” said Ben Robins, a senior research fellow in computer science at the University of Hertfordshire who specializes in working with autistic children. “Robots are much safer for them because there’s less for them to interpret and they are very predictable.”
The article neatly decribes the current state of the science behind the idea that social robots can help autistic children to learn and train certain social skills (basically, there are promising case studies, but a long-term effect study is lacking). And it mentions the opinions of various researchers, in the field and outside of it, on the merits of the work with Kaspar (which has been ongoing since 2005).
I also found a nice BBC video from 2008 about Kaspar and Robins and others’ work:
And there is a long, Japanese documentary about Kaspar and the work of Robins et al.
Recently, on October 25, Jeroen spoke at a workshop about healthcare robotics. It was organised bij Kennisalliantie and Syntens, who wish to set things in motion, especially in the Dutch ‘Medical Delta’ (roughly Rotterdam-Delft-Leiden). Prof. Luc de Witte opened the day, followed by Boudewijn Wisse, and finally Jeroen Arendsen. In the afternoon the discussion was continued in groups. The video gives a good impression of the day. For Robots that Care the initial contact with Zorgbelang, represented by mrs. Aat Hoffius, may well lead to further developments.
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
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 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.
It can be connected to a PC using a USB port. Sensors enable it to respond to external stimuli; it is equipped with 13 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 and faces. It can see a person nearby and, for example, turn in their direction and make eye contact. It als senses being patted or stroked in various places and can respond, for example, by waking up (from sleeping).
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.
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.
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.
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 an 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, can be found at Handy-Wijzer.