Nursing & Healthcare News

Robot Friend for Pediatric Patients

New AI technology comforts and supports hospitalized kids

Young female patient is hugging a robot that has a smile on its screen

Being hospitalized with no human contact besides clinicians in PPE is stressful and scary for most adults, much less kids. Some local pediatric patients, however, will soon have a new pandemic companion: a cute robot called Robin.

Robin the Robot

The midst of a global pandemic is a particularly awful time to be a hospitalized child. Younger pediatric patients may not understand isolation and quarantine procedures, and COVID-19 infection control protocols make it harder for staff to provide emotional support.

Expper Technologies, an Armenian robotics startup, has developed a novel solution, an example of which recently rolled out at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital: a child-friendly, artificially intelligent robot called Robin.

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Standing about 4 feet tall and designed to look like a sleek but adorable cartoon character, Robin can talk to patients, display animated expressions on its “face,” play games, sing songs and help clinicians provide age-appropriate education about hospitalization and treatments.

“An Emotional Being” in Training

During its first year, the robot at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital will be remotely controlled by a developmental specialist from UCLA’s Chase Child Life Program, which will be helping to train the AI and studying the technology’s impact on patients and families.

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However, Expper Technologies cofounder Karén Khachikyan says Robin the robot is not merely a remote-controlled device, but “an emotional being.” Khachikyan explains that the AI’s ability to learn from human contact “allows Robin to express emotions and react naturally to situations and interactions with children.”

Chase Child Life Program Director Kelli Carroll calls the robot “another tool in our toolbox to provide developmental and coping support for our young patients” and says it helps her team continue to educate and support kids even though “traditional interventions are on pause during the pandemic.”

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