A Finnish Hospital will be trialling a robot that gives clinicians the ability to ‘feel’ patients remotely in conjunction with deep tech robotics company Touchlab.
Start-up TouchLab is a new tenant of the National Robotarium, a research and innovation hub focused on robotics, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) based in Edinburgh.
Controlled by operators wearing an electronic haptic glove, the Välkky telerobot is equipped with electronic skin (e-skin) technology to transfer a sense of touch from its robotic hand to users.
Kirsi Ahonen, head nurse and project manager at Laakso Hospital, said: “Envisioning a future where robots and caregivers collaborate seamlessly is something I find incredibly exciting. Our long-term goal is for Välkky to assist in a variety of day-to-day ward tasks to ensure the delivery of comprehensive patient monitoring and care.
“While Välkky will initially be deployed on a smaller scale, undertaking tasks like retrieving fallen items or taking patient vitals, it has the potential to help with a number of more complex jobs. This includes patient-lifting, which could help alleviate potential physical injuries for staff, and reducing the spread of infection.
“The integration of cutting-edge robotics into our healthcare team marks an exciting milestone and innovative technology like Välkky has the potential to revolutionise how we deliver patient care, support our dedicated staff and continue to provide exceptional care for our patients.”
E-skin is a material which is made up of single or multiple ultra-thin force sensors to transmit tactile sensations such as pressure, vibration or motion from one source to another in real time.
The three-month pilot at Laakso Hospital in Helsinki will see a team of nurses trained for the pilot explore how robotics systems can help deliver care, reduce workload and prevent the spread of infections or diseases.
It will be coordinated by Forum Virium Helsinki, an innovation company for the City of Helsinki, as part of a wider €7bn (£5.9bn) project to build the most technologically advanced hospital in Europe, which is set to be completed in 2028.
Dr Zaki Hussein, CEO of Touchlab, said: “In the past, telerobots have been limited to being able to see, hear and speak on behalf of the people using them. Now, thanks to our innovative e-skin technology, robots like Välkky can ‘feel’ too – and not only on their fingertips.
“This ground-breaking pilot with our partners at Laakso Hospital is helping to enable new and unprecedented applications in robotics. It’s our ambition that the anonymised, real-time data gathered throughout the project will help prove that semi-autonomous robots can co-exist with and support professionals in a variety of industries like healthcare and the transition to greener energy sources.”
With more than 43,000 nursing vacancies in England, it is hoped that Välkky will complement existing staff and free up people to focus on more complex nursing tasks. In turn, the robot could complete daily clinical duties like taking pulses or temperatures.