It's not fun being hospitalized, particularly not for children. When times are hard and social isolation due to the current pandemic makes it worse, most patients are left with a feeling of anxiety and loneliness.
To address this concern, experts have come together to develop a system that would realistically engage with patients, particularly those with compromised immune systems.
Expper Technologies, a Silicon Valley-supported startup, together with a group of experts from the University of California Los Angeles, is responsible for developing the artificial intelligence system robot, which they named Robin.
According to Dr. Justin Wagner, a pediatric surgeon at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital and a co-leader of the project, negative feelings are even stronger during this time of the pandemic.
He adds that while physical isolation is necessary during the coronavirus pandemic, the feeling of isolation is not. The team hopes to include Robin as a member of the health care team, enhancing the ability to provide children with attention, contact, and companionship.
Robin's technology allows the robot to build a network of associative memories. It is designed to recognize a child's emotions by analyzing and interpreting their facial expressions. From the initial analysis, Robin will then build a responsive dialogue by reflecting patterns formed from earlier experiences.
Robin to the Rescue
Robin is expected to be roaming hospital halls by mid-July. The robot will undergo a year-long training period, where it will be remotely operated by a specialist from the hospital's Chase Child Life Program.
Moreover, the UCLA program aims to provide educational and training opportunities to undergraduate and graduate students going after careers that support the social and emotional development of medically frail children.
The specialist will supply Robin's voice and control the robot's actions and expressions. During this process, the robot is expected to "learn" how to react and respond to the needs of children and their families.
According to Kelli Carroll, the director of the Chase Life Program, Robin is another tool in their toolbox to provide coping and developmental support to young patients. While traditional interventions are at a halt during the pandemic, the needs of patients still remain.
She says Robin will help specialists prepare, educate, and provide behavioral distraction admitted in the hospital during these trying times.
Crippling Stresses of Being Hospitalized
Stress during the coronavirus pandemic is common. It happens to almost everyone as the world, and its operations are put on a halt to address the bigger problem people involving people's lives and safety.
Being hospitalized during this time is particularly difficult as physical isolation is necessary. Adults are having a hard time coping, all the more for little children. The developers are hoping that Robin can address these stresses.
Aside from providing emotional support to hospitalized children, Robin will also be the subject of a study by a multidisciplinary team of behavioral and medical specialists. The experts will assess the robot's impact on pediatric patients and their families.
According to Dr. Shant Shekherdimian, a pediatric surgeon and co-leader of the project, the ability to provide pediatric patients with this type of social accompaniment is imperative, particularly during this pandemic.
He adds that by bringing Robin to UCLA, their team of clinicians and researchers would work incessantly to improve the technology and make it an even more powerful tool.