Hospitals are using robots to lighten the load on clinical staff.
What’s new: A number of U.S. hospitals are using Moxi, a robot from Diligent Robotics, to ferry supplies, lab specimens, soiled laundry, and other items, Wired reported.
How it works: Moxi is four feet tall with blinking L.E.D. eyes and an articulated arm tipped with a rubber grip. It navigates using a front-facing camera, rear-facing lidar, and auditory cues. A secure compartment that can be unlocked by a radio-frequency badge holds sensitive items such as lab samples. Fifteen Moxi robots are operating in U.S. hospitals, and another 60 are scheduled for deployment this year.
- The robot spends its first weeks in a new hospital learning to navigate the building’s layout, including elevators and room numbers. It uses object recognition to identify items and stores their location, color, shape, and other features. It uses this data to build a map of its surroundings.
- Faced with an unfamiliar task, it can request guidance. A human can teach Moxi by physically moving its arm to perform a desired action while giving voice commands that prompt the learning algorithm to note the motion. For instance, to teach it to pick up and move an object, the teacher might say “start here,” move the arm and say “go here,” and make the robot grasp the object and say “grab this.” The algorithm also notes the item’s weight, appearance, and sound it makes when handled.
- Given access to a periodic, anonymized health report that updates a patient’s condition, Moxi can deliver appropriate supplies and verify that a sign outside the room matches the patient’s current status.
- It connects to the cloud using wi-fi but uses LTE as a backup when a hospital’s network is inadequate, a common issue in the company’s experience.
- Clinical staff can assign chores at a kiosk or via text message.
Behind the news: In 2020, the American Nurses Association assessed Moxi’s performance in three Texas hospitals. The study found that the robots improved nurse productivity and reduced feelings of burnout. However, the robots struggled to navigate crowded hospital halls, and their inability to read expiration dates raised the worry that they might contribute to adverse consequences.
Why it matters: Robots may not have the best bedside manner (yet), but they can create much-needed breathing room for human caregivers. In a 2021 survey of U.S. nurses, 83 percent of respondents said their shifts were understaffed in a way that affected patients’ safety half of the time, and 68 percent had considered leaving the profession. Meanwhile, the U.S. is one of many countries with a rapidly growing population of elderly people, putting further strain on the healthcare system. These conditions create a clear opening for robots capable of performing many low-risk, repetitive chores.
We’re thinking: Come to think of it, Hippocrates’ dictum “first, do no harm” bears a striking similarity to Asimov’s First Law of Robotics, “a robot may not harm a human being.”