Nurse robot Moxi gets schooled by Texas nurses

Healthcare is one of the industries most primed for automation adoption. But can robots perform useful tasks in busy hospital settings?

A robot named Moxi, designed to help nurses, has concluded its first real-world trial in a Texas hospital. Designed by Austin-based Diligent Robotics, the trial was designed to test a collaborative automation integration in a working hospital. Robots are widely seen as one potential tool to help relieve strain on healthcare workers like nurses.

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.

Factoring in retiring nurses, the Bureau anticipates the number of job openings for nurses at 1.09 million by 2024. If the tight labor market increases, that demand could be difficult to meet. According to the American Journal of Medical Quality, the country is on track to experience a shortage of registered nurses between 2009 and 2030, with the most intense shortfalls coming in the South and West.

Automation proponents see a solution in social collaborative robots and autonomous mobile robots. In Japan, where an aging population has forced the country to tackle many of these issues a decade ahead of the U.S., robots with names like Paro, Pepper, and Dinsow have been successfully integrated into the healthcare ecosystem, albeit for it for relatively limited tasks.

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In the U.S., much of the work around healthcare robots has focused on autonomous mobile units like TUG, a delivery bot that can ferry medicine and supplies around semi-structured environments like hospitals. The same autonomous delivery technology has given way to robotic bellhops in hotels.

Moxi stands out for being a socially intelligent robot that can aid nurses without making humans feel uncomfortable. In the Texas trial that just wrapped, Moxi took over some of the grunt work that distracts nurses from patient care.

"Almost thirty percent of our task during our shift is to fetch things," according to Phebe Iyepe, RN at Texas Health Dallas, where the trial took place. "But at this time all you need to do is press your voice button and call for Moxi, it responds."


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During the trial, Moxi delivered admission kits to drop-off boxes outside each patient room and lab specimens to the lab. The robot also carried heavy soiled linen bags from patient rooms to a cleaning area.

There's a long way to go before robots like these are commonplace in hospitals. Though a subject of much curiosity among patients, Moxi was designed not to go into patient rooms, for instance. But Diligent Robotics is making steady headway, with six upcoming beta trials scheduled and an aim to roll out Moxi full time to hospitals starting in second half of 2019.

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