Robots created to assist elderly in hospitals pass testing phase patients

Robots created to assist elderly in hospitals pass testing phase patients
A Spring robot converses with a hospital staff worker (Broca Living Lab APHP Spring project/PA)

Robots created to help in healthcare environments have been tested successfully by experts.

The Spring (Socially Assistive Robots in Gerontological healthcare) units will be used to assist patients, alleviate their anxiety and relieve pressure on nursing staff as part of a trial conducted in Paris, France, by staff from the UK’s National Robotarium.

The robots have artificial intelligence and are said to be capable of natural conversations, can understand patient needs, and assist with routine tasks.

The trials took place in three phases at Assistance Publique Hopitaux de Paris.

RobotA Spring robot standing alongside people in a hospital (Broca Living Lab APHP Spring project/PA)

The robots greeted patients, answered questions, provided directions, and were able to understand conversations involving multiple people at the same time.

By carrying out simple but repetitive duties, robots also reduced potential physical contact between clinicians and patients as part of the trial, with early feedback suggesting the use of socially assistive robots may lower infection transmission risk while boosting productivity of nurses and doctors.

Researchers hope the robots will help alleviate patient anxiety, in turn freeing up time for hospital staff.

Professor Anne-Sophie Rigaud, head of department at Assistance Publique Hopitaux de Paris, said: “Our patients are increasingly interested in robotics and the evolution of hospital services, which they see as the logical evolution of our society.

“We believe that the ARI robot could in future become an essential element of patient care in hospitals, thanks to its capacity for social interaction and guidance.

“Older adults have also expressed that they’re pleased with the design of the robot and thought that it would be useful to provide information and companionship to patients with cognitive disorders.”

The Edinburgh-based National Robotarium is funded through the £1.5 billion Edinburgh and South-East Scotland City Region Deal.

It is supported with £300 million in funding from the Scottish Government and £300 million from the UK Government.

The Robotarium is a partnership between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh.

Oliver Lemon, a professor of AI and academic co-lead at the National Robotarium, said: “Today’s rapid advances in AI are truly inspiring and open up a world of possibilities for its positive impact on various sectors, including healthcare.

“One of the most significant contributions of robotics and AI is its ability to conserve resources and alleviate human workload, therefore providing valuable new tools for enhancing healthcare delivery.

Oliver Lemon (Heriot-Watt University/PA)

“The prospect of robots seamlessly collaborating with hospital staff to enhance the patient experience is now closer to reality.

“Promising initial trials at Assistance Publique Hopitaux de Paris have demonstrated our robot’s ability to converse effectively with patients and their companions simultaneously.

“We believe that the Spring project marks a significant milestone in the development of interactive robotics, and we are proud of its achievements, while recognising the exciting challenges that lie ahead.”

UK Government minister for Scotland, Malcolm Offord, said: “The early trials into helper robots successfully demonstrates the great potential such advanced technology has to deliver vital support to health staff, improve patient care and prevent the spread of infections and diseases.

“The UK Government has invested £21 million in the National Robotarium helping foster world-leading research and support high-quality jobs, investment and growth, as part of our more than £2.9 billion investment to level up across Scotland.”

Neil Gray, the Scottish Government’s wellbeing economy, fair work and energy secretary, added: “I welcome this progress using artificial intelligence to help ease the pressure on health service staff.

“With Scottish Government support, the National Robotarium is using cutting-edge research to help drive innovation and artificial intelligence to deliver creative solutions to real world challenges.”

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