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Hackernoon logoHow Social Robots Help Reduce Stress and Loneliness In Child Patients by@viceasytiger

How Social Robots Help Reduce Stress and Loneliness In Child Patients

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@viceasytigerVik Bogdanov

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What do a smartphone, a kick scooter and a pet have in common? When combined and powered by artificial intelligence, they become new members of the household – social companion robots. They can do a boatload of things from guarding the house and doing chores to babysitting and teaching kids to keeping company to the older adults or those with health issues.

According to a market research company IMARC, in 2019, the global robotics market reached a volume of 12 million units, growing at CAGR of 22% between 2015 and 2019. A recent study by McKinsey Global Institute predicts that the advanced robotics market value will be up to a whopping $17 trillion by 2025.

The development of this market sector is to a large extent driven by new applications in the area of social robotics,” says McKinsey.

Social robots are designed specifically to enter human social interaction space both physically and semantically and to disrupt the core of our current social practices. That being said, they act as a catalyst for change in social engineering.

While social robots can be of any shape and size, their key goal is to assist people and make their life easier and happier. 

The Research Insights predicts that between 2020 to 2027, the social robots market will be worth $700 million at a CAGR of 14%. It reflects a high demand for social robotic solutions both among individual and corporate users. 

One of the areas that’s expected to benefit a lot from social robots is healthcare.

Social Robots On the Frontline of Healthcare

Technology-packed mechanical creatures express emotions and respond to touch. They come into play in hospitals, nursing homes, hospices and places where other humans and animals aren’t allowed. A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has demonstrated that “social robots used in support sessions held in pediatric units at hospitals “can lead to more positive emotions in sick children.”

One robotics company has recently done some pilot studies that generally confirm the MIT findings. With the knowledge in mind that hospitalized kids experience a high level of anxiety and social isolation, Expper Technologies designed and built Robin, a social robot that helps mitigate stress and loneliness for children admitted to hospitals for both short-term interventions (e.g., sonography, CT scanning and blood sampling procedures) and long-term medical treatment (e.g., surgeries, infections, etc.). 

Robin the Robot

Made of fully recyclable bioplastic, Robin is the first of its kind social robot that uses peer-to-peer interaction to help sick children overcome stress and anxiety. Other available solutions for the hospitals are limited in terms of meaningful interaction. They are used as toys or tools rather than friends. Robin, in contrast, uses a peer-to-peer approach and becomes kind of a “buddy” who is always there to support during the hard times. 

Expper Technologies is developing their AI-based patent-pending technology to build peer-to-peer emotional interactions between Robin and children. This technology utilizes reinforcement learning to anchor relevant emotional reactions by analyzing facial expressions and context of conversations. It allows for building an associative memory and intelligently react by replicating patterns formed upon previous experiences (children’s emotions, conversational patterns, facial expressions, behavioral patterns). 

That being said, Robin builds follow-up dialogues considering individual features of a particular person. 

How Research Data Proves Effectiveness of Robin the Robot

Robin the Robot has already been used in pilot studies conducted in Avanta Dental Clinic and Wigmore Clinic UK. The results are more than impressive!

I reached out to Karén Khachikyan, CEO and Co-Founder of Expper Technologies, to learn more about the results of the studies and how Robin makes a difference, compared to competitive solutions.

According to Karén, the first pilot started in November 2019 and lasted for two months. Robin served as a companion for children of different ages and with varying diagnoses in Wigmore Clinic Medical Center in Yerevan (Armenia). In the majority of cases, kids perceived Robin as their peer. All 120 kids who have interacted with Robin at least once expressed the desire to meet him again. 

The pilot proved an increase in joyfulness level in kids by more than 26% as well as stress level reduction by 34%. 

In some cases, Robin decreased the time of medical procedures up to 40% as children were less stressed and more cooperative.

The pilot took place in both inpatient and outpatient settings and collected the following data:

As much as 88% of parents who interacted with Robin admitted a very high satisfaction with the Wigmore Clinic services versus 73% of parents with no experience of interacting with Robin. 

The feedback from the medical practitioners is that Robin has managed to engage children in a cooperative environment and make them more communicative, which allowed the medical staff to perform their duties easier and with less frustration involved. 

How COVID-19 Pandemic Has Affected Demand for Companion Robots

I also asked Karén about the COVID-19 implications for their robot sales. It turns out that the current situation brought excellent opportunities for Robin.

Because of the Global Pandemic children are much more isolated at the hospitals as the visitations have been strictly limited and the medical staff avoids interacting with patients for reducing the chance of the virus spread. Hospitals are looking for solutions to help children cope with isolation, loneliness, and hospital-related stress.

Since Robin has already proven its effectiveness in reducing stress and anxiety and supporting kids, hospitals can now provide better emotional support to sick children without any direct human contact.

Because Robin is made of eco-friendly bioplastic, it can be easily sterilized with UV light or other disinfectants, minimizing the risk of the virus contagion. 

Speaking about short-term plans, Karén's team is bringing their technology to the UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital where the pediatrics will be using Robin in the next couple of weeks to help hospitalized kids cope with their current situation.

To promote Robin further and provide it to public hospitals all over Armenia, Expper Technologies has partnered up with the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). In July 2020, the team behind Robin is going to deploy the social robot at ABC Kids Dental Group in LA. 

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