Maribor hospital boasts humanoid robot

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Maribor – A humanoid robot named Frida is being introduced to a clinical setting at the UKC Maribor hospital in what the head of the HosmartAI project Vojko Flis says is the world’s first. Robots are already helping out in hospitals, but nobody notices them because they look like ordinary hospital devices, he says.

This is the first time in the world that a humanoid robot is being tested in a hospital setting, said Flis, adding that Frida was in no way meant to replace the medical staff, but assist them.

“We already have robots in hospitals that nobody notices them, for example in the operation room or labs. After all, the automatic defibrillator that hangs on the wall is a robot too.

“But the question is what happens when robots come that look like humans. That is when different fears come to the surface,” Flis told the press.

Frida is qualified to do routine tasks such as taking a temperature and blood pressure, and monitor patient’s vital signs and report to a doctor or a nurse. She will mainly work at two sections of the surgical ward – at thoracic surgery and the abdominal and general surgery.

“It is very important that this robot can synthesise and collect different medical data which have so far been incompatible. She will present all these data to the medical staff when they are doing rounds and thus save them time, which they will be able to devote to the patient,” Flis said.

So far, computers have usually taken up medical staff’s time, while in smart hospitals artificial intelligence will allow staff to devote more time to patients.

Frida will communicate with patients in Slovenian, ask them how they are feeling and save the data collected. She will also be able to show some breathing and other exercises to patients and help them access information online or communicate with relatives at home, which is especially important for older patients.

For the time being, Frida will not be interacting with patients as hospitals are a very challenging setting. She is expected to be tested on actual patients in the autumn. “Frida is still learning. For security reasons she always has someone behind her back who is watching what she is doing.

“When she learns enough, it will be possible to start another pilot project – work in a controlled environment with patients,” Flis said.

According to him, this is a mayor European research project in development of smart hospitals. An important part of the research is seeing how people, both patients and hospital staff, respond to humanoid robots.

The robot was made in France, but its AI has been designed at the Maribor Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “We’re working on communication and autonomy,” said Izidor Mlakar from the faculty.

“In the first phase in a clinical setting, the robot learns about the environment and the staff is getting used to the robot. Expectedly at the end of September, we are hoping to start the first phase of the testing, where the robot will be tested during rounds. We’ll start in a hospital room with four patients,” he said.

The department for psychology of the Maribor Faculty of Arts is also involved in the project, studying the process from the psychological point of view.

The HosmartAI project is estimated at some EUR 10 million, of which EUR 900,000 are covered by the UKC Maribor hospital and the Maribor University. In the future, Frida is to get a partner called Smiljan.