Most developed countries face the problem of an aging population . This has put a strain on medical and healthcare services as this meant more medical workers are needed. The most direct implication is the shortage of nurses. The workload for existing healthcare workers are increased and methods for relieving their workload is needed. Robots that could provide assistance for repetitive yet time-consuming tasks are developed and are in high demand. They could relieve the workload of nurses and nurses could channel their efforts to greater flexibility. The robot presented in the picture below is named Clara and it provides assistance for breathing (spirometry) exercises for patients.
The target assistive for the robot ,Clara, is the spirometry exercise. Cardiac patients need to perform regular lung exercises after their surgery . This is to prevent infection and increase the speed of recovery. Patients inhale air through a spirometer, a small plastic device which measures the velocity and amount of inhaled air . Patients are supposed to inhale up to a specified volume of air, which will slowly increase as they recover. This exercise forces the lungs to expand and contract regularly to prevent pneumonia. This activity is usually facilitated by a nurse and has to be carried out ten times per hour for several days or weeks after the cardiac surgery. The process is repetitive, laborious and time-consuming for the nurses. Tutelage on how to use the spirometer and how to breath properly are needed in the first few sessions, subsequent sessions require mostly motivation and monitoring. Monitoring meant the recording of the patient’s progress and thus track recovery rate. Thus, in subsequent sessions after the patient has learnt how to use the spirometer and breath properly , the activity of providing spirometry exercise can be replaced by a robot.The robot will record the patient’s progress for the nurses to track their recovery.
Clara is a hands-off intelligent assistive robot as it has no physical contact with the patient. Instructions are given through speech and speech recognition is one of the implementations of the robot. 3 traits are endowed upon Clara, they are namely , social awareness, autonomy and the lack of tactile input or physical manipulation. Social awareness involves interaction with the patient, providing motivation for the specified breathing excercise ,which is painful for the patient. Autonomy means no human assistance is needed and lack of physical manipulation means it does not need a person to push it around or give it commands through physical contact. Clara is constructed with off-the-shelf products. It has acoustic perception and obstacle avoidance abilities for command and navigation. It has a video playback application that can display a person’s face.
Future work would involve improving accuracy of the speech recognition implementation and safety. Safety has to be improved as hospitals have highly dynamic environments and might hinder the robot’s ability to perform obstacle detection and avoidance. The robot could be made more interactive as well.
I feel that this robot is a good development and could benefit medical worker’s by relieving their workload a lot. More of these robots that cater for repetitive and time-consuming work could be development , not only in the medical field , but in engineering, construction fields or areas that involves high risk like space tracking. These assistive robots could help humans channel efforts to better use or perform difficult tasks in their place.
Reference : Kyong Il Kang, Sanford Freedman and Maja J Matari´c, Interaction Laboratory Computer Science Department, University of Southern California, Mark J. Cunningham and Becky Lopez,Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery,Keck School of Medicine,University of Southern California, “A Hands-Off Physical Therapy Assistance Robot for Cardiac Patients”, USC Centre for Robotics and Embedded Systems Technical Report, CRES-05-001,Mar 2005