Can social robots help hospitalised children recover?

An image to illustrate social robots for hospitalised children
© iStock/Moussa81

According to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, interaction with a social robot – a robotic teddy bear invented at MIT – had a positive impact on the emotions, engagement, and activity level of hospitalised children.

The study found that the use of social robots for hospitalised children resulted in improved emotional, physical and verbal outcomes. In the study, the researchers write: “Such improved emotional, physical, and verbal outcomes are all positive factors that could contribute to better and faster recovery in hospitalised children.”

The researchers say that this is the first study to explore social robotics in a real paediatric setting.

Can social robots supplement human interaction?

The researchers insist that social robots should not replace human interaction, but add to it.

First author Deirdre Logan, a pediatric psychologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, said: “Child life staff provide a lot of human interaction to help normalise the hospital experience, but they can’t be with every kid, all the time. Social robots create a more consistent presence throughout the day. There may also be kids who don’t always want to talk to people, and respond better to having a robotic stuffed animal with them. It’s exciting knowing what types of support we can provide kids who may feel isolated or scared about what they’re going through.”

The co-author Cynthia Breazeal, an associate professor of media arts and sciences and founding director of the Personal Robots group, commented: “Our group designs technologies with the mindset that they’re teammates. We don’t just look at the child-robot interaction. It’s about [helping] specialists and parents, because we want technology to support everyone who’s invested in the quality care of a child.”

The huggable robot

MIT describe the social robot: “Huggable is a plush teddy bear with a screen depicting animated eyes. While the eventual goal is to make the robot fully autonomous, it is currently operated remotely by a specialist in the hall outside a child’s room.”

“Through custom software, a specialist can control the robot’s facial expressions and body actions, and direct its gaze. The specialists could also talk through a speaker – with their voice automatically shifted to a higher pitch to sound more childlike – and monitor the participants via camera feed.”

Source: MIT

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