Czech scientists collaborate on robotic household ‘nurse’

Czech scientists working in collaboration with colleagues from four other European states have created a robot that can assist elderly or post-surgery patients in a variety of situations. Commercial interest in the Robo M.D. was quickly piqued with a demonstration of the new mechanical nurse earlier this week, and the door to further development is wide open.

Robo M.D. teamRobo M.D. team Meet the home nurse of the future, Robo M.D., who in this demonstration has just found its patient lying face down on the floor and is taking the appropriate measures. It may be still be a long time before robots master mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, or even encouraging bedside manner, but this new project means a large step in a new and, judging by first commercial reactions, popular direction. Dr Petr Špatenka of the University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice is part of the Czech team involved in the project.

“The aim of the robot is to improve the standard of living of older people who have had problems, let’s say, with a heart attack and so on. The robot consists of three parts: one part is a sensor that the person carries on their body, then the movable robot, which is activated in the event of some unusual situation, and the home control unit, which collects all of the signals from the sensors, makes an evaluation, and in the event of a situation it activates the robot, which goes through the room, finds the person, and asks pre-programmed questions about the situation. If it is serious, then the emergency service is activated automatically.”

Another major skill with which the small, rather friendly-looking plastic fellow is endowed is his ability to share his line of sight with emergency services. Through a video camera in the robot, paramedics can determine to a better extent what kind of medical situation is taking place. Certainly a lot of this technology already exists in the form of various kinds of diagnostic systems, and an ambulance can be called with any mobile phone. But Robo MD, say its makers, gets rid of the need for having multiple such devices placed around a larger flat, for example; the robot can find where the person is and gather specific information, such as whether they are in pain and where. Additionally, the robot in cooperation with the emergency services can determine that there is no serious situation and free the paramedics from non-essential visits.

The project is being done in cooperation with Austria, the Netherlands, Italy and Estonia, with the Czechs team handling the harmonisation of the robot’s various functions.

“Our task in this project was to handle all of the communication between the sensors and the control unit, and between the control unit and the robot, as well as the communication out to the emergency service. That means that our task was to make all the programmes for this communication, to make the programme for the evaluation of the data from the sensors, and the programmes that activates the robot and decides whether or not to activate the emergency service.”

The first, fully functional “Home Care robot” prototypes are already being tested in households in Holland, though in the absence of commercial involvement in the project they currently cost a whopping 100,000 crowns. However, business investment will bring that price down many times and should be easy to find, on a continent where there are steadily increasing numbers of senior citizens living alone.