How to reduce the workload of healthcare workers using robots

Five new applied research projects are starting at the University of Tartu this autumn. All of the projects aim to address coronavirus-related problems.

The project led by Associate Professor of Collaborative Robotics Arun Kumar Singh is beginning to develop autonomous mobile robots that help to reduce the workload of healthcare professionals. The robots will minimise the contact between staff and patients and thereby lower the risk of infection during virus outbreaks.

For example, a robot carrying a human-sized display could lead a patient to the doctor’s room. This would give nurses a bit more time and reduce human contact in hospital hallways. Another example is a box-shaped robot that could deliver food to patients who are staying in the hospital.

Clearpatch Jackal robot
This knee-high robot can be used for transporting objects, such as test samples, food, and medicine. Image credit: IMS lab
Clearbot robots
These 10-cm-high robots will be tested for interaction with patients. The researchers will mount a tablet on them at a higher level to guide patients in reception areas or testing rooms. Also, a remote nurse can talk to the incoming patients through the tablet. Image credit: IMS lab

In the course of the project, the team will work out sensing, control, and human-robot interaction technologies, the latter of which is the most challenging task. So far, robots have mostly been used in factories where few humans are present, whereas in hospitals robots should interact and cooperate with humans. “When you put robots and humans into one space, they both feel uncomfortable. Suppose a robot moves and sees a crowd of people. It needs to predict how the crowd will move during the next 0.1–0.2 seconds and decide on how to move”, said Singh.

Singh and his team are planning to start testing robots in Estonian hospitals at the end of next year. The tests will show if the robots manage to impress healthcare professionals and hospital leaders. The researchers will develop a commercialisation plan for the technology based on performance, along with hospitals and industrial partners.

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