Kids like robots. And sick kids can benefit from robots in the hospital. A robot companion named Robin has been tested in a pediatric clinic in Armenia, and researchers report an increase in young patients’ appetites and cheerfulness after interactions with the robot. Robin is due to comfort kids at a U.S. dental clinic starting in July.
“We aim to change kid’s perception of medical treatments, where they will no longer feel isolated, lonely and scared,” says Karen Khachikyan, CEO and founder of Expper Technologies.
Robin is 47 inches tall and made of recyclable bioplastic which can easily be sterilized with ultraviolet light or other disinfectants to minimize the risk of spreading viruses (see Covid-19).
“It is the first of its kind that uses peer-to-peer interaction in order to help children overcome stress and anxiety,” the CEO says. “Robin utilized our AI-based patent-pending technology to build peer-to-peer emotional interactions with children.”
The technology analyzes facial expressions and the context of conversations. It moves with an omni-directional wheel system and uses its “face” to display emotion with a variety of expressions. This all means the robot can react naturally to situations and interactions with children, its creator says.
As for the “making kids feel better” factor, Expper says a two-month pilot study involving more than 100 kids at Wigmore Clinic, Nork Marash Hospital and Avanta Clinics (all in Armenia), collected behavioral, observational and procedure data, along with information on stress and pain levels in young patients.
A self-report questionnaire was used to measure children’s emotions and reportedly showed an increase in “joyfulness” by more than 26% as well as a 34% reduction in stress.
“Kids who stay in hospitals and have to undergo lengthy and sometimes painful treatment usually have a lack of appetite; some tend to be silent and apathetic,” Khachikyan says.
“However, all the kids who have once interacted with Robin have shown interest in meeting it again. There were cases of improved appetite and an increase in cheerfulness after interactions with Robin. “
Medical practitioners also said Robin managed to engage children in a cooperative environment and make them more communicative, allowing hospital and clinic staff to perform their duties easier and with less frustration.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, children are much more isolated at hospitals. Visitations are limited, along with interactions by medical staff.
“Hospitals are looking for solutions to help children cope with isolation, loneliness, and stress,” the CEO says. “As Robin has already proven its effectiveness in reducing stress and anxiety and supporting kids, hospitals can now provide better emotional support to the children without any direct human contact. Besides, Robin is there for children 24/7 to support any time. “
What is this robot saying to kids?
Khachikyan says the technology allows Robin to behave like a peer. He can play interactive games, tell funny stories and jokes … and explain complicated (and scary) medical procedures in simple ways.
“During the children’s hospital stay, Robin continually visits children and helps them feel less isolated and lonely and by doing this increases recovery outcomes,” the CEO says, adding: “Robin is kind of an adorable buddy who is always there to support and help during the challenging times.”
The team behind Robin the Robot was founded in 2017. They started developing Robin at the beginning of 2018. They raised raised $200,000 in initial funding from SmartGateVC, HIVE Ventures, and angel investors for conducting the pilots and technology development. Expper plans to start raising seed funding soon “to advance the emotional intelligence technology and for the deployments in California,” Khachikyan says.
Robin is coming to America on July 1.
Robin will be rolling around at ABC Kids Dental Group in Los Angeles, California, followed by UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital, Expper says.
“Dental treatment frequently involves invasive treatment, multiple injections, and the use of sharp, high‐speed cutting instruments, often extended over several visits,” Khachikyan explains.
“Children often experience fear, anxiety, and stress which can impact the treatment quality, and cause traumatic experiences preventing later visits. Considering this, it is important that dental treatment also focuses on the psychological aspects of a child’s visit, thus preventing painful and traumatic experiences.”
Expper has to a goal to deploy Robin in major hospitals and dental clinics in California this year, allowing the locations to use Robin for a monthly subscription fee. A PowerPoint on Robin lists the fee at $1,500 per month, per unit, noting the company expects to rent out up to 10 robots per hospital (there’s more than one Robin).
Expper was part of ImpactAim Venture Accelerator, and is continuing its work in Armenia, helping kids with cancer undergo treatments.
“Partnering with UNDP, we are planning to deploy Robin in public hospitals in Armenia,” Khachikyan says. “This collaboration can impact thousands of children yearly bringing comfort and joy to them during the daunting process of hospitalization. We are planning to launch the project within a few months.”