Hospitals may go sci-fi with ER robots

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Triage nurses in hospital emergency rooms could soon be replaced with robots dubbed TriageBots - at least that's the fantasy of computer engineers at Vanderbilt University in the US.

A team is working on a robot system that can gather medical information, take basic diagnostic measurements, and make critical decisions on a patient's immediate needs. Announced in a December 6 news release, the Vanderbilt project aims to equip hospitals with TriageBots in five years.

The robotic system involves not only roaming robots that monitor patients in waiting areas but also an electronic kiosk with voice prompts and a touch-screen for quick registration. Chest pains? The kiosk will immediately alert the hospital staff. Otherwise, it will take your vital signs, ask you to fill out forms, and assign you to a waiting area.

According to the researchers, about 40 percent of ER patients arrive with potentially life-threatening conditions. The TriageBots can handle the remaining 60 percent, reducing wait times and increasing hospital efficiency, researchers say. The team presented a paper on their work on December 6 at the robotic conference Humanoids 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Of course, hospital robots aren't a new concept, especially in Japan. Among the staff at the Aizu Central Hospital located north of Tokyo, a receptionist robot welcomes visitors and answers spoken questions. In another hospital, RIBA (Robot Assistance for Interactive Body), a robot created by the Japan Institute of Physical and Chemical Research, makes itself useful by lifting patients from their hospital beds. In a UK hospital, a fleet of robots do the dirty work by transporting clinical wastes and dirty linens, while others deliver food and dispense drugs.

In addition, Kokoro, a Tokyo-based entertainment company, has teamed up with Osaka University's Hiroshi Ishiguro in the creation of eerily lifelike feminine androids, known as Actroids (such as Geminoid F), in development over the last few years and revealed at a press conference in Osaka in April 2010. The company hopes the bots will serve roles as receptionists, patient attendants, or guides.

Read more about the Vanderbilt University project:

Read more about the Actroids:

To watch the Actroid F in action: