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Robots in healthcare

asimo-small.jpgI have loved robots since I was a child and saw Robbie in "Forbidden Planet" at the Saturday morning pictures. But my attempts to make one from old shoe boxes, torch bulbs and a couple of batteries ended in failure.

So, it was a great pleasure for me when I went eyeball to lens with the RP (remote presence) 6 robot being piloted at Imperial College Medical School at St. Mary's Hospital, Paddington, London. You can read more about my encounter with the RP6 in an article that I wrote Carebots in the Community.

The RP6 looks like a vacuum cleaner base carrying a flat screen monitor. A doctor consults a patient remotely, steering with a joystick and the help of an on board camera. It is also handy if a doctor in Birmingham needs a second opinion from a colleague in London, or in New York for that matter.

The advantage of remote presence robots like the RP6 over conventional telemedicine is that they can move to the patient, rather than the patient having to move to a telemedicine suite. In addition, they respect privacy, so there would be no need for a person at home to be subjected to 24 hour surveillance. Mind you, how would the RP6 make it upstairs unless it developed Dalek-like levitation skills?

Humanoid robots can climb stairs and will operate in our world. They will do the heavy work—like lifting patients, moving equipment and working gadgets like the washing machine and microwave—remember, many people give up living independently because of arthritis.

Here is a nice brochure about anthropomorphic robots from the University of Waseda in Japan. The University plans for its robots to use "multimedia such as speech, facial expression and body movement" (!) Robots like these could make carers' jobs less physically demanding and help the elderly and infirm to stay independent.

My wife says she wants one now (I say she already has one). Honda’s ASIMO (see pic) is an example of a bipedal humanoid robot, which unfortunately for my wife (and me) is still about ten years away from general deployment. Now where did I put those shoe boxes?

Picture of ASIMO by kind permission of Honda Motor (Europe) Ltd.

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