Nurse robot set to make the rounds at major hospitals

Healthcare is a new hotbed of automation, and this robot is officially out of beta.

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A nurse robot named Moxi is officially coming out of beta testing. Last year, Moxi concluded its first real-world trials last year to test a collaborative automation integration in a working medical facility.

Moxi was designed by Austin-based Diligent Robotics, an automation firm bringing its hospital robot assistant to the real world starting with a Texas hospital. The company has received backing from investment firm True Ventures and had early financial support from the National Science Foundation, which awarded Diligent with a series of Small Business Innovation Research grant.

Socially intelligent mobile robots have long been posited as one response to a chronic nursing shortage in the U.S. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for nurses in the U.S. is set to grow from 2.7 million in 2014 to 3.2 million in 2024, an increase of 16 percent. Much of the growth will be driven by aging baby boomers who need additional care. 

Last year, Diligent Robotics launched Moxi, awarded as one of Fast Company's World Changing Ideas in 2019, into beta phase during month-long trials at four U.S. hospitals.

"Our vision is to improve the way people think about their work by giving them more time to utilize their unique human skills, and let friendly robot assistants efficiently take care of their chores," said Andrea Thomaz, CEO and Co-Founder of Diligent Robotics. "We are proud to have the full support of our past investors as well as new key investors to accelerate the roll-out of Moxi robots into hospitals."

Like other robotics firms, Diligent is hyper vigilant about positioning its technology as a tool to help human workers, rather than replace them. That's especially critical in the field of nursing, which has a long and successful history of collective bargaining. Medical professionals across the board are keeping a sharp eye on the rapid advance of automation in healthcare.

"Over the last year, Diligent Robotics has made rapid progress in delivering and testing Moxi in multiple hospitals," said Rohit Sharma, partner at True Ventures and board member for Diligent Robotics. "The team continues to demonstrate unmatched robotics-specific innovation by combining social intelligence and human-guided learning capabilities. We're thrilled to continue our partnership with Vivian and Andrea as they build a world-class, leading robotics company."

Moxi is a socially intelligent robot that can aid nurses without making humans feel uncomfortable. In the Texas trial, Moxi took over some of the grunt work that distracts nurses from patient care. Diligent is focusing on the unskilled portion of nursing that seems ripe for automation. That includes retrieving and transporting items and delivering supplies.

As for actually interacting with patients and delivering care, seems that's still firmly the purview of humans.