European team developing fleet of hospital robots

If you’re lying bored and unwell in a hospital bed, the prospect of a visit from a robot is probably somewhat less appealing than the idea of seeing friends or family.

But according to researchers on the European €4.5m EU-funded MOnarCH project (Multi-Robot Cognitive Systems Operating in Hospitals) robots can be extremely helpful therapeutic devices.

Coordinated by Lisbon’s Instituto Superior Técnico (IST), the aim of three year project, which involves researchers from approximately ten European companies and research centres, is to develop and introduce a fleet of robots that collaborate with medical personnel and interact with patients.

The team is now investigating the development of a fleet of robots that could be used to interact with the young cancer patients on the the pediatric ward of the hospital of Portuguese Oncological Institute of Lisbon.

According to Víctor González Pacheco, a robotic researcher from Madrid’s Universidad Carlos III (UC3M) one of the chief challenges is ensuring that the robots can communicate effectively with both patients and clinical staff.

‘Some of these behaviors consist in establishing a conversation with users, providing information to the staff or even playing with the children, so the behaviors must be varied and they must allow the robots to adapt to the needs of each individual they are going to deal with,’ he said in a statement.

The project builds on related work on the use of therapeutic robots, including a UK study which investigated the benefits of using social robots to engage with autistic children, and the development of the Japanese Paro robot, which has reportedly been successfully used to improve the state of mind of elderly people.