Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Shortages of Healthcare Staff Will Be Fulfilled By Robots

In the future, medical professionals will be assisted by mobile electronic attendance machines. Robot Nurses

Robot nurses are a thing of Science Fiction the future. If you have ever been required to spend a week at the hospital, or if you have visited a loved one in the hospital, than mobile "robot" nurses may be a sensitive issue. The first thought that may comes to mind is that you would whether have a caring nurse hold your hand than a robotic mechanism, no matter how efficient they could become.

Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering has launched a projected called IWARD. The abbreviation stands for 'intelligent robot swarm for attendance, recognition, cleaning and delivery'. Ten teams of researchers from Germany and seven other countries will collaborate on the project. The robots are to be made as petite and adaptable as possible. The nurse robots will be equipped with a motor, wheels, an on-board computer, a radio unit, optical sensors, loudspeakers, and cleaning tools for wiping up spills and disinfecting.

"All of these components already exist. The important thing for us is not having new hardware, but advancing the development of swarm intelligence," explains IAO scientist Thomas Schlegel who is coordinating the project.

Schlegel clarified that the robots will need to recognize when they are approaching sensitive equipment such as a CT scanner where they can not transmit radio signals. Radio signals interfere with the imaging system and the robots will have to operate autonomously in such areas. Once they have left the sensitive equipment area, they can than re-establish contact with the robot swarm via WLAN or Bluetooth.

I do wish they would have chosen a different wording than 'robot swarm'; the wording brings up B movie science fiction shows of Big Brother propensity. However, there is always too much to do in a hospital, and most often, the staff is overworked with few days off to recoup. The robot "nurses" are not being created to replace humans; they are being designed to assist nurses and medical technicians in an ever increasing shortage of skilled workers. The future hope is that the robot advancements will be able to take over a wide range of tasks such as finding the patience's doctor, keeping the hospital room clean, and showing visitors to the correct hospital room / area. How many times have you quietly muffled complaints in trying to find the hospital cafeteria or finding the yellow brick road back to the lobby elevators? It took me a couple of minutes to figure out that the main lobby were on the third floor... not the first.

Currently, a telepresence robot dubbed Sister Mary is being tested at St. Mary's hospital in Paddington, London, in the UK. This is part of a remote presence trial. The trial is to observe the activities that allow doctors to examine patients remotely, using the robot as their eyes and ears. The doctor's control center has a double screen, Webcam and joystick for controlling the robot. In addition to being used for patient consultations, the device can help with mentoring and training medical staff remotely.

Anther robot named Nurse Pearl reminds her elderly clients to eat, drink and take they're medicine. She may never win a beauty contest, medical dictionary but she's already won the hearts of elderly patients at the Longwood Retirement Community in Oakmont, Pa. Pearl's designers said they took special care to make her pretty, but it's what's inside that counts:

  • Two Intel Pentium
  • Four processor-based PCs run software to endow her with wit and ability to navigate
  • A differential drive system propels her
  • Wi-Fi helps her communicate
  • Laser range finder
  • A stereo camera systems
  • Sonar sensors guide her around obstructions
  • Microphones help her recognize words
  • Speakers enable others to hear her synthesized speech
  • An actuated head unit swivels in lifelike animation.

All this and more is housed in her slender four and-a-half-foot-tall frame. Almost a hundred years of technology and real women endorsements and yet the first female robot has big eyes and a slim body. Well, at least she has both a great personality and brains.

The swarm based approach will unburden the medical staff from the little details that are mandatory and will return medical members back into the responsibilities that they trained for. Nurses, hospital orderlies and medical technicians work incredibly hard and are overworked. Too many skilled medical workers are leaving the field due to career burn out accompanied by unappreciative family members. With IWARD (robot swarm attendants), medical professionals can concentrate on what they are passionate about, bringing our family and friends back to health with they're superior healthcare training and experience.

No comments: