A View from Kristina Grifantini

Robotic Nurse Washes Human

A robot uses a soapy sponge to clean off a patient’s skin.

  • November 10, 2010

A robot known as “Cody” successfully wiped away blue candy from a test user’s legs and arms without being too forceful, researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology (led by assistant professor Charlie Kemp) reported at the 2010 IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems (IROS) conference last month.

The elderly and people with disabilities often have trouble with daily activities, like folding laundry, getting groceries, and even maintaining personal hygiene. Robots that can put away clean dishes or sort laundry may aid people enough to let them maintain an independent lifestyle for longer in their homes or help ease some of the burden of hospital or assisted-living workers. Now Cody has added another task to robots’ repertoire of personal assistance tasks: wiping down a person too bedridden or injured to bathe themselves.

A bed bath–where a nurse or family member uses a soapy sponge to clean off a patient’s skin–can be an awkward social situation and make a patient feel uncomfortable. Instead, a human operator can tell Cody what parts of the patient’s body to clean. Cody uses a camera and laser range finder above its torso to gather data before autonomously cleaning the area.

Chih-Hung King, first author of the work and sole test subject in the video below, reports on the experience of being wiped down by a robot:

In the beginning I felt a bit tense, but never scared. As the experiment progressed, my trust in the robot grew and my tension waned. Throughout the experiment, I suffered little-to-no discomfort.

For safety precautions, Cody’s arm joints are made with low stiffness to soften any accidental impact, and the robot is programmed to never exert more than a certain amount of pressure (well below the threshold of causing any damage). And of course, a “stop” button shuts off any movement. The robot, which can also be led by a nurse holding its robotic hand, was developed in the same lab that brought us the fetching, door-opening El-E robot.

Innuendos aside, this work represents a good step for health-care robotics. As more roboticists design automatons to assist the booming elderly population and come into direct contact with humans, safety becomes even more important.

Weren't able to make it to EmTech Digital?
We've got you covered.

Watch videos here

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.