Jennifer Larson, NurseZone feature
this scenario. You go to visit your elderly mother, who has been living in an
independent retirement facility for a few years now. When you arrive, a robot is
coaching your mother to take her blood pressure medicine. As you look on, the
robot gently reminds your mother, who nods and dutifully swallows her prescribed
robots like this one be part of the future landscape of long term care? It’s
anybody’s guess, but a multi-institutional team of researchers in Pittsburgh
have said, “Why not?”
years ago, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of
Pittsburgh developed a robot they dubbed “Flo” after Florence Nightingale.
Composed of people from nursing and computer science and rehabilitation science
backgrounds, the team wanted to create a personal robotic assistant for elderly
people living in the community who might need a little extra help. Jacqueline
Dunbar-Jacob, Ph.D., RN, of the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing is a
principal investigator on the project, along with other nursing school
researchers at the university and researchers from the computer science and
robotics department at Carnegie Mellon.
researchers include Martha Pollock of the University of Michigan, Wolfram
Burgard of the University of Freiburg, Germany, and Dieter Fox of the University
to the researchers, the goal of the Nursebot project is to provide more support,
not to replace the nurses and nurses’ aides who do help out the elderly in
assisted living facilities. Eventually the team received a grant from the
National Science Foundation.
project is in its second year of this funding, having just received a $1.4
million grant. The newest robot was created about a year ago. Her name is Pearl,
and she can navigate autonomously, unlike Flo, who was operated completely by
researchers really do refer to the 4-foot-tall Pearl as a “her.” Indeed,
Pearl has a robotic voice similar to a woman’s voice and a humanoid face,
complete with eyes and mouth.
pretty quickly attribute some human characteristics to the robot,” said Judith
T. Matthews, Ph.D., RN, a nursing school faculty member at the University of
Pittsburgh and Nursebot project member.
the responsibilities that researchers would like to ascribe to robots like Pearl
include intelligent reminding, tele-presence, data collection and surveillance,
mobile manipulation and social interaction.
beings are very complex,” said Matthews. “This would have to be tailored to
intelligent reminding component of the robot reminds its owner to eat, drink
water, take medicines, and go to the bathroom.
According to Matthews, the robot would also provide a platform for
telemedicine; the patient’s doctor could use the robot to connect remotely
with the patient. At the same time, the robot could collect information to
supply to the health care practitioner.
interaction and mobile manipulation may be some of the biggest challenges. Pearl
has a mapping capability that allows her to sketch out a map of the room in
which she is placed, Matthews said.
the Nursebot researchers have done some field testing with Pearl in a
Pittsburgh-area retirement community. They asked the residents to provide
feedback on the robot. A group of
residents gamely talked to the robot, answered questions, and accepted candy
from a dish in the robot’s proferred “hand.”
the feedback has been very positive, according to Matthews.
a novelty to it,” she said. “People can talk at dinner about how they talked
to a robot.”
Pearl’s descendants will need more speech development.
The roboticists have discovered the robot’s limited vocabulary is one
drawback, and a more extensive script might be more useful to the people using a
the Nursebot project is expanded, it would have a fairly limited application,
imagine that this wouldn’t be for everyone,” she said.
people might need robotic assistance only for a short period of time. “It is
the kind of thing that could be used over and over by more people…just like
any other equipment,” Matthews said.
there are and will be technological challenges to creating a workable Nursebot
that could be used on a widespread basis, Matthews said.
example, researchers are doing some testing to get information on people’s
average walking speeds over certain distances. Also, Pollack is working on the
robot’s reminding software, by inputting data gathered from older adults on
their usual morning routines.
Nursebot team plans to meet in late June to regroup, share information, and move
are loads and loads of questions on how this would work best,” Matthews said.
“But you have to start somewhere.”
June 1, 2002. © 2002. NurseZone.com. All Rights Reserved.