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Inside this issue:
AI in the ER Face time goes mobile The house of the future Mission Critical
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CONTENTS V O L U M E 1 N O . 3 • FA L L 2 0 1 1
These walls can talk Even though the thought of having a home that interacts with you is a far-off notion, many different fields are currently working on making this futuristic concept a reality.
Page 9 6 Essential
18 State of the art
Where industry is conquering home robotics
New products and technology in home and health care
27 Q & A
The makings of da Vinci’s company
A leading expert discusses AI in the ER
On the cover: IRobot’s telepresence Ava robot and InTouch Health’s RP-Vanatage surgical telemonitoring robot. The companies are teaming up to jointly develop telepresence robot business opportunities.
29 Future jobs Medical robotics aim to aid doctor shortages, home robotics prime to be bullish
36 Uncanny valley Making service robots people like
38 Testing, testing UK hospitals adopt automatic guided vehicles
Page 20 Their bodies, ourselves Telepresence robotics are set to change everything from health care to commuting and conference calls.
40 Pop culture corner Hollywood’s take on robots in the home
42 Technology gap Willow Garage looks at open sourcing, while the University of Massachusetts tests telepresence guidelines
44 End users The hands of da Vinci
Robotics are making their way into every facet of medical care, from diagnosis to the operating table. And the field is getting a little help from an unlikely source, one that’s Alex Trebek approved.
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Editor’s message Editorial Vice President of Communications and Publications, Editor Brett Davis email@example.com Managing Editor Danielle Lucey firstname.lastname@example.org
ith this issue of Mission Critical, AUVSI delves into a new world of unmanned systems use, one that
will likely become familiar to all in coming years.
Associate Editor Stephanie Levy email@example.com Contributing Writer Magnus Bennett
Senior Advertising and Marketing Manager Lisa Fick firstname.lastname@example.org +1 571 255 7779
A publication of
one flaw that robots don’t: You can’t con-
We’ve all heard about the soldiers oper-
tinue a conversation as you walk down a
ating ground robots in Afghanistan and
Iraq and about the eyes in the sky that unmanned aircrafts provide. The technology that makes that possible is also making its way into the home and into the office, and
particularly into the field of health care.
Unmanned systems technology doesn’t have to stay at the doctor’s office or at the workplace — it can follow you home. We take a look at “smart houses,” domiciles infused with sensors that allow them to moni-
In the near future, the phrase “the doctor
tor the health and safety of the occupants
will see you now,” may not mean that the
inside. Elements of the household can be
doctor will be in the same room. In fact, he
controlled from touch pads or phones, and
or she could be thousands of miles, even a
the homes can even come equipped with
continent, away. Using telepresence robots
household robots that automatically go
would allow a human doctor to cater to far-
about their chores. Smart houses and tele-
flung patients, which could be a particular
presence robots will also allow the elderly
boon in areas where transportation is dif-
to stay in their homes longer and in better
health. Relatives can visit virtually from far
Robotic surgery has made great strides in
recent years. Not only does it allow sur-
Of course, there are plenty of challenges
geons to be more precise, it shortens the
before this future becomes a reality. The
recovery time for patients. The technology
technology must be more reliable so public
could eventually allow surgery to be done
acceptance can be earned; some job shifts
remotely, broadening the reach of caregiv-
may occur, which always provokes anxiety;
ers even further. When mankind begins to
and the cost must be brought down. Such
travel away from Earth, such technology
shifts have already happened as a result of
Executive Vice President Gretchen West
won’t just be nice to have — it will be a
the computer revolution, and there’s no rea-
son to think they can’t happen again with
AUVSI Headquarters 2700 South Quincy Street, Suite 400 Arlington, VA 22206 USA +1 703 845 9671 email@example.com www.auvsi.org
This technology isn’t limited to the medical
President and CEO Michael Toscano
profession. Businesses can use it, too. We
Stay tuned for our next issue, which will
look at a study of how telepresence robots
look at unmanned systems that take on the
can be used by a business with global hubs
dull, dirty, dangerous and difficult mission
and spokes. Meetings at such places have
of exploration, whether for scientific knowl-
traditionally been handled by telephone or
edge, oil and gas development, or monitor-
video conferencing systems, but they have
Essential Components Spa days and hospital stays: Panasonic’s new robotic fleet Everything from hospital visits to hair washing will soon go hightech. Panasonic announced the development of HOSPI-Rimo, a new communication assistance robot for people in hospitals. It also announced changes to its Hair Washing Robot and RoboticBed. Panasonic showcased prototypes of all three systems at the 38th International Home Care and Rehabilitation Exhibition in Tokyo from 5-7 Oct. HOSPI-Rimo uses the same autonomous technologies as its cousin, the HOSPI bot, which delivers medication automatically. It has a hybrid mobility function that lets the robot move through autonomous sensing or via remote control. Using HOSPI-Rimo’s High Definition Visual Communications System, patients can have smooth two-way conversations with doctors or loved ones. The Hair Washing Robot has been developed using Panasonic’s robot hand technology and can complete the entire process of hair washing automatically: wetting, shampooing, rinsing, conditioning and drying. Three-dimensional pressure-control technology lets the washing arms move over a wider range of the head. Using an advanced touch-panel interface, the user can even specify the spot to be washed, massaging pressure and washing mode. The RoboticBed combines the technologies of an electric care assistance bed, electric wheelchair and existing Panasonic robot technologies. People can move between the bed and the wheelchair on their own with the help of a common platform for all parts of the RoboticBed, a new tilted wheelchair restoration and separation function, and a user-friendly interface. The RoboticBed was first introduced in 2009.
The patch with a pulse on your health The Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., is aiming to use technology to accelerate the delivery of medicine to the battlefield. Led by Alex Bordetsky, an associate professor in the school’s Department of Information Sciences, the concept would use networked sensors, along with unmanned air and ground vehicles, to detect medical issues and then transport medication to the patient. Perhaps even more impressive: Bordetsky predicts the technology could be on the battlefield in five to seven years.
Panasonic’s suite of medical care robots. All photos courtesy Panasonic.
Essential Components “The curve on this is very steep,” he says.
while thinking of moving the cursor — a
Researchers at la Universidad Carlos III
“Sometimes forecasts are slower than real-
sensation known as proprioception — the
de Madrid have developed an “intelligent
ity. So this is something I believe we are
monkeys were outfitted with robotic sleeves
T-shirt” that monitors the human body. It’s
going to see not too far into the distance on
that fit over an arm. Once they were trained
designed to be used in hospitals and can
to move a cursor through thought, they then
even locate a patient, serving as a sort of
repeated the action with the robotic sleeve
GPS system that functions in enclosed spac-
moving their arm in a similar fashion, as if
es. It can even tell if you’re lying down,
their hand was moving the cursor. The re-
walking or running.
The idea relies on devices called nano patches, developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, that adhere to a solder or to a combat uniform. If a soldier is wounded, the device monitors vital signs and then relays the extent of the injury to a doctor, who could be located anywhere in the world. Unmanned ground vehicles would arrive at the injury and establish a data link or, if robust enough, move the patient to a safer location.
sults showed increased information in the motor cortex cells received from the motion versus the data from only visual feedback. The researchers think the technology could play into exoskeleton technology. “Wearable exoskeletal robots could provide sensory information to patients with full or partial feeling,” says Nicholas Hatsopoulos, lead researcher on the project. “Alternatively, direct stimulation of the relevant
The university has partnered with Salinas
area of the cortex could be used to repli-
Valley Memorial Healthcare System center
cate sensory feedback in patients who have
and also the U.S. Air Force’s Air Combat
lost both motor and sensory function.”
Command pararescue teams to do initial tests of the technology. Though so far the
The T-shirt, which is washable, includes electrodes that detect bioelectric power. There’s also a separate localization device that communicates with the information management system that would be installed in a hospital. Eventually the researchers want to incorporate the localization device into the shirt itself, and they foresee the technology being more widely worn: Athletes could use it to monitor their heart rates and elderly patients could wear the Ts to monitor their health while remaining in their homes.
RoboDynamics unleashes Luna assistant robot
results show that humans perform the diagnostic task quicker and with higher accuracy, the patch can still prove valuable while
Santa Monica, Calif.’s RoboDynamics is
the patient waits for human care.
set to release 1,000 limited edition versions of its Luna personal robot sometime in
With feeling! Extra senses aid in brain-machine interface
the fourth quarter of 2011, according to a
Controlling objects with only thoughts may
ture and an open Linus-based operating
seem futuristic, but to some scientists not
system, the robot is a part of the company’s
only is it possible, it also could use a little
so-called “Robotics Manifesto,” an aim to
have a robot in every home in 10 years.
Researchers at the University of Chicago
“Luna is a radical rethinking of personal
studied monkeys that were thought-con-
robots, and we believe a beautifully de-
trolling a computer cursor and determined
signed, human-sized, open and afford-
they do so more accurately when given additional sensory feedback. The aim of the study was to further develop brain-machine
company release. Featuring a native app store, PC architec-
The intelligent health-monitoring T-shirt, developed by researchers at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. Photo courtesy the university.
interfaces for patients with spinal cord inju-
able personal robot will spark a flurry of innovations similar to what we’ve already seen in parallel industries such as PCs and mobiles,” says Fred Nikgohar, founder and
ries and similar disabilities.
The T-shirt will see you now
CEO of RoboDynamics.
Scientists already know that the brain ac-
Is your blood pressure a little bit high or you
The robots, which feature a touchscreen
tivity when thinking about doing something
feel like you’re running a fever? In the near
display, Wi-Fi and USB ports, will retail ini-
and actually doing it are the same. To give
future you may not have to see your doctor;
tially for $3,000. The company expects a
the monkeys a sense of position and motion
you could just ask your T-shirt.
wide release of the robot in the second half
Essential Components — continued from Page 7 another room, and though many children have difficulty maintaining eye contact or expressing emotions to the therapist, when the kids see Keepon’s dance moves, it aids these behaviors. A part of the proceeds from each sale of the commercial version of Keepon will fund future Keepon Pro autism research.
Robotics help paraplegic student stand tall Four years after a car accident left him RoboDynamic’s personal assistant robot Luna is getting a limited edition release later this year. Photo courtesy RoboDynamics.
paralyzed from the waist down, Austin Whitney stood up from his wheelchair and walked to receive his degree from the University of California Berkeley. Whitney used a controller switch on a walker to direct the
of 2012 and will announce a new price level then.
Mega cute autism bot heads to department stores
“Our objective is to aggressively remove
The Keepon, originally developed by re-
cost and complexity, thereby facilitating
searchers at Carnegie Mellon University
widespread consumer adoption while simul-
and Japan’s National Institute of Informa-
taneously providing a unique ground floor
tion and Communications Technology, is
opportunity for the developer community to
one squeezably cute little robot that’s been
bring innovative ideas to a financially vi-
used for more than five years as a social
able robotics ecosystem,” says Nikgohar.
development tool for children with autism. Now through the formation of the company BeatBots LLC, Keepon’s adorable nature is going global and will be released to major retailers, like Toys R Us, for around $50 — a far cry from the Pro version for research, which costs around $30,000.
wearable robot, strapped around his legs, to move forward. His success came with the help of a robotic exoskeleton developed by engineers at the university. Homayoon Kazerooni, professor of mechanical engineering, had been working on robotic exoskeletons with his team of researchers since last fall. He and Whitney both hope the technology is more widely available soon. “This technology can be accessible to a large number of people, and that is our mission,” Kazerooni said in a press release. “We’re telling the community that this is possible. This is just the beginning of our work.”
The robot picks up on whatever song the owner is playing and does a rhythmically aware custom dance for each song. Keepon’s autism research has worked by having therapists control the robot from
SCAN IT Keepon Robot provides therapy for patients with Autism.
Scan this barcode with your smartphone to see Keepon’s latest music video.
How robotics and automation technology may one day shape the place we live By Danielle Lucey
The University of Florida’s Gator-Tech Smart Home appears like any other house from the outside — save a campus sign — but on the inside monitors its dwellers’ habits. Photo courtesy Sumi Helal.
robot in every home.
Much like his now-modest vision for person-
The rosy future of in-home robotics isn’t
ted a home with monitoring devices aimed
al computing, Microsoft founder Bill Gates
purely reliant on a personal fleet of Rosie
at researching inhabitant behavior, though
predicted in a 2006 Scientific American
the robots, though. Homes themselves are
they’d never know it.
article that, one day, robotics would be as
slowly gaining intelligence in their own
prolific as the technology for which he is
right and are just another example of how
the aging Baby Boomer population will
Unpredictable to Gates — and everyone else — at the time was the 2008 housing slump and financial upheaval that most of the world still struggles with; however, as holds true with most robotics, it seems, an industry of little helpers-that-could keep vacuuming, laundering and cooking along. According to a 2010 International Federation of Robotics study, the latest year for statistics, service robotics is a $13.2 billion industry. For 2009, 5.6 million robots for domestic use and 3.1 million robots for entertainment or leisure were sold. IFR estimates the projected sales of all types of do-
not go quietly into assisted living facilities. Scores of universities around the world are pouring research dollars, yen and euros into in-home sensors, cameras and aware
“In our case the demographics are good because Florida is the retirement capital of the world,” says Sumi Helal, director and principal investigator of UF’s Gator-Tech Smart Home. “We have the perfect subjects to ask them to help us.”
appliances that could extend the indepen-
Aimed at monitoring the elderly and peo-
dence of aging or disabled people.
ple with certain diseases or disabilities, re-
And once these robotic-based technologies converge with at-home information technology-equipped houses, having robotics and automation in the home — or perhaps even
searchers have kept the technology largely invisible so it’s not intrusive, but they are still able to track a person’s habits and determine if there are any behavioral changes.
a part of the home — could seem as neces-
“Part of the success is to make the technol-
sary as owning a laptop, smartphone and
ogy disappear and be invisible and out of
tablet all at once.
the way,” he says. “The house was fitted with sensors and actuators and other de-
mestic robots could reach 6.7 million units
Researching the smart home
from 2010 to 2013, with entertainment
Tucked away in a retirement community
and leisure bots up 4.6 million.
eight miles off the University of Florida cam-
It has a smart floor that allows the home to
pus in Gainesville, researchers have outfit-
track the location of people inside and can
vices, basically to do some tasks, such as monitoring what the user is doing.”
Robotic Houses — continued from Page 9 count the number of steps a dweller takes.
Right now his team is working on creating
“The common thing about these robots is
It can also monitor hygiene and bathroom
fuzzy algorithms that would see these small
that they are becoming an interesting de-
use, so the house can show longer-term
behaviors as a nonessential element of the
vice,” he says, continuing that not all user
trends that may correlate with changes in a
activity. His goal is to move activity recogni-
interfaces in a home are acceptable. “Do-
tion from just research into something us-
mestic robots create emotional ties with the
able to programmers.
user, and it is much better to talk to that silly,
Getting the home to understand what ex-
nice-looking, cute-looking robot than talking
actly you are doing, however, has proven
Though in the past researchers have cou-
to be tricky, says Helal. A researcher could
pled the brains of the home with informa-
spend time using machine learning and ar-
tion from mobile devices, Helal says the
tificial intelligence to tell if a person is cook-
most promising interactive device in the
Robots, also unlike other devices, offer the
ing, for example, but even small changes
home that he’s seen is the domestic robot.
element of persuasion, says Helal.
The Gator-Tech Smart Home currently has
“In obesity for example … imagine telling
two of these, one French and the other
the user to go on the Web so you can tell
“One day you wake up and you run your
South Korean, that not only provide a lot
him something to convince him to eat less
algorithm and your smart home is watch-
of programmability for the researchers but
or send him a text message,” he says. “If
ing, but then the user comes up with a
also offer an emotional element to a per-
you keep sending text messages, the user
freak behavior, like change the way they
son living in the house. The house team
begins to have to manage these messages,
do things completely,” he says. Even slight
has done research in the past using iRobot
at least delete them. It’s a chore. And we
behaviors like a head scratch can be chal-
Roombas. Regardless of platform or mobil-
wanted something that’s so smooth that it
lenging to the algorithm.
ity, Helal says they’re proving valuable.
almost becomes a pet.”
in behavior make it difficult for the house to guess that activity accurately.
to the walls. It’s more spooky to talk to the walls.”
A Willow Garage illustration imagining its PR2 taking on a Rosie the robot role. Image courtesy Willow Garage.
Helal says the Asian market is moving extremely quickly in this area, and he was encouraged to see President Barack Obama support domestic robotics when he announced the National Robotics Initiative in late June.
hosted many series of research projects. One particular disability the Aware Home is researching is autism and how technology in the home can help all involved in a child’s therapy to become higher functioning. For example, explains Brian Jones, di-
“I’m looking at ways that some of these technologies, along with some that are fairly common, like motion sensors and door sensors, noninvasive heart respiration and motion sensors … how all these things can come together to build a better picture around certain conditions of interest,” says
“American companies need to step up,
rector of the Aware Home project, by using
because this is becoming an important ele-
cameras to capture the child’s behavior,
ment,” he says. “I think this is really impor-
the child’s care network can then use that
Like the Gator-Tech Smart Home, Georgia
tant. We need more companies working on
information to create a uniform approach
Tech’s home uses robots to help with its re-
domestic robots in the U.S.”
to addressing the behavior. The National
search. Currently, Aware Home has a Wil-
Science Foundation is funding this research-
low Garage PR2 robot, and the research-
ers are familiarizing subjects with the robot
The University of Florida’s Gator-Tech home isn’t the only robotics-equipped research
and studying how residents would like it to
home in the southern United States. The
For future studies, the Aware Home is tran-
Georgia Institute of Technology hosts the
sitioning its in-home technology so its series
Aware Home, a project borne out of a fac-
of sensors allows a more integrated envi-
ulty desire to study what kinds of technol-
ronment and could reveal patterns of daily
“This summer we actually had the robot in
ogy are useful in a home setting. Focused
living, explains Jones. The researchers are
the home performing some of those activi-
on heath care, but also based on a desire
monitoring things like electricity and wa-
ties to see how some of the older adults re-
to test home bandwidth capabilities, the
ter use and also determining if there’s any
sponded to the robot making mistakes or
university’s home started in 1998 and has
health data in that information.
doing it correctly, how it delivered the medi-
function. The robot could deliver medication or remind a person to take it.
cation, for example, or how long it took it to pick up certain things,” he says. Having a robot in a home setting is useful since it’s a very controlled environment, Jones says. “It becomes an assistant to the caregiver,” says Jones. It could also become a feedback mechanism for either talking to the individual or providing some other feedback on how well they’re doing today. And it can be a sensor in the environment, so it’s able to observe behaviors.” The robot could also be a social device,” says Jones, “somebody to confide in.”
Willow Garage’s PR2 robot was created for research that works with its open-source software. Photo courtesy Willow Garage.
To see Willow Garage’s PR2, which has been programmed to fetch a beer from the refrigerator, scan this barcode with your smartphone.
Robotic Houses — continued from Page 11
IRobot’s latest robot, Ava, is aimed at the healthcare market. Photo courtesy iRobot Corp.
At-home helper Jeff Beck, president of iRobot’s home robots division, says people get so emotional about their connection with the company’s flagship product, the vacuuming Roomba, that he’s received multiple letters a week since he started with the company about two years ago. “It really set me back a little,” he says. “I started getting letters from people talking about their robotics in the first person. They give them names; they adopt them almost as family members.” Beck notices that the younger generation tends to respond to the robots by having fun with them, say by filming cats riding around up top and posting it to YouTube, but the company’s older clients form a strong emotional bond with the company’s Roomba, robotic mop Scooba, pool cleaner Verro and gutter cleaner Looj.
Scan this barcode with your smartphone to see the most popular YouTube video of iRobot’s Roomba. A cat taking the product for a spin has more than 6.6 million hits on the website.
IRobot’s Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner is its most popular domestic robot to date, having sold more than 6 million copies. Photo courtesy iRobot Corp.
“You get people who are wounded veterans or elderly people and they’ll write letters saying, ‘Because of Roomba and Scooba, I’m able to live in my home more comfortably. I don’t have to worry about pushing a vacuum cleaner or mopping my floors.’ Those types of things happen all the time.” The company, which gained about 55 percent of its 2010 sales from its domestic robot division versus military ground vehicles, is successful in the still burgeoning field of domestic robots by focusing on practicality, Beck says. “Our primary business, different than a lot of other companies, is that we’re really looking to develop and deploy practical robots that are useful and do lots of jobs that people don’t like to do every day in their homes,” Beck says. With strong customer sales in the United States, Western Europe, Japan and South
Korea — iRobot has sold more than six mil-
in terms of making a change in people’s
lion Roombas since 2002 — the Massachu-
lives,” says Willow Garage’s Brian Gerkey,
setts-based outgrowth of the Massachusetts
director of open-source development.
Institute of Technology focuses on marketing
Though some don’t see the immediate rel-
to a demographic they call the “meticulous
evance of these projects — the most high-
profile coming from Sen. Tom Coburn from
“That’s essentially people who are well ed-
Oklahoma, who in June publicly denounced
ucated, higher income bracket, very busy
National Science Foundation spending on
with their lives, they work a lot, they don’t
robotics projects like Berkeley’s laundry
have a lot of time to do household chores,”
folder — Willow Garage is invested in
he says, “but they’re also at the same time
these robots one day being everywhere.
very, very house proud. … They like to
“I would say that we’ve met a lot of prog-
have friends over and entertain.”
ress in the last 20 years in robotics, and the
Having grossed more than $230 million
last five years more on the personal robot-
in 2010, the company is constantly study-
ics side, robots in and around the spaces
ing new domestic areas of interest to its
where people are,” says Gerkey.
market segment and does focus groups on
how those robots would work to maintain people’s homes. Much like the computer
Using available open-source media is also
boom of the last 50 years, iRobot believes
the current trend in automated housing.
that one day there will be multiple robots in
Company HD Media Systems, a custom
every home, says Beck.
technology home integrator headquartered
“The biggest challenge, quite frankly, is
in Jackson, Mo., won the 2011 Electronic
believability,” Beck says. “We still devote
House magazine Home of the Year Award,
the majority of our marketing activities to
outfitting a house with only $50,000 in
demonstrating products and making sure that people understand they really do work. They almost look too good to be true in some cases.”
technology, orders of magnitude less than HD Media Systems relied heavily on Apple products to set up a user-friendly series of controls for the home, some of which were mounted into the walls. Photo courtesy HD Media Systems.
Simplicity and usability will also be key, he
company co-owner Drew Balsman. Customized with automatic lights, preset shower temperatures and irons that set
says, just like they were for home computing.
the second and third place homes, says
themselves for morning use, the award winvacuuming or other tasks, the Silicon Valley
ning home, designed by Bravo’s “Flipping
“When I look at something like an iPad, I
company does have two robots, Personal
Out” star Jeff Lewis, was able to be cheaply
think that the brilliance of that product is not
Robot 2 (PR2) and the smaller, cheaper
renovated via heavy reliance on Apple
so much in its computing power but that it’s
TurtleBot, that, using open-source software,
products located throughout the home that
easy to use,” he says.
can be transformed into personal helpers.
control its features. The three children over
In fact, iRobot uses tablets as the “head” of
The University of California Berkeley has
one of its newest creations, Ava, a home
programmed a PR2 — which at $400,000
and healthcare robotics platform. The com-
a platform is intended for research — that
pany recently teamed up with California
has learned how to sort socks and fold laun-
telemedicine company InTouch Health,
dry, with the long-term plan of performing
and the team is working on developing a
the entire laundry cycle. The Technical Uni-
remote presence capability for healthcare
versity of Munich is focusing on how the
“You can do anything in the house from
PR2 can cook a traditional Bavarian break-
any of those pads that I want them to do,”
says Balsman. “Now for the kids I don’t
Open-source home robotics
“The reason that we focus on personal
Although fellow robotics company Willow
robotics is that’s where we think there’s
Garage doesn’t make specific robots for
the greatest opportunity for a big impact
the age of nine in the house each have one of the family’s eight iPhones, and four iPod Touches and eight iPads are throughout the home — some of the iPads permanently mounted in the walls — and can control anything in the house.
give them full access to the house. I give them access to their rooms, their TV, maybe the playroom, some basic lighting control. That’s it.” Mission Critical
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Robotic Houses — continued from Page 13 Home entertaining is easy too: Any guest
mile radius from its headquarters, explains
“We have a large home that was done
with an iPhone or iPad can plug into the sys-
Balsman, but with the growing popularity
about a decade ago that has 350 some
tem and have their music playlist or home
of the home automation market and HD
odd different individual light loads,” says
video displayed throughout the house.
Media Systems’ growing profile, they’ve
Balsman. “I mean it’s a huge house; we’re
expanded to take calls from the East Coast,
talking 15,000 square feet plus. We up-
Texas, Arkansas and Tennessee.
dated that particular customer to a new
The company, only five years old, was borne from Balsman and his partner Scott Starzinger’s realization that information
And as home technology customization gets
technology and audiovisual home technol-
more popular, Balsman says the price to
ogy are headed on a collision course.
automate features drops. Before the iPad’s
“The exciting thing for me when we start talking about automation is it’s getting to
release, a single touchscreen interface in a home could cost about $5,000.
lighting control system with different types of sensors that had light harvesting, and we went in and added some motion detectors so it would automatically shut down different zones when they weren’t being used, and we cut his electric bill probably by 30
a point where, honestly, three, four years
“When you look at mainstream, you can
percent in the course of just two months.
ago, if it wasn’t a high-end client that had
start with something as simple as a couple
And when your electric bill is two grand a
the money to really invest in it, it wasn’t
light switches, an iPad interface, a ther-
month? That’s a big deal.”
something that we talked about. And now
mostat and a basic controller. You can get
I talk about entry-level automation with es-
started on those things for literally less than
sentially every single customer that I’m in
front of, whether it’s a small single-room job or whatever. We’re talking about the basics of automation all the time.” When the company started, it typically would only work on homes in about a 150-
Extravagant systems are more versatile and programmable than entry-level work, says Balsman. In the Electronic House home,
In addition to the dropping price of many
the technology revolved around a Savant
of these technologies, some of the features
control system. Made by Savant Systems,
themselves are cost savers too, particularly
the home technology controller is the only
for large homes.
Apple-based home automation system on the market.
The Electronic House magazine Home of the Year was outfitted with gadgets from HD Media Systems, a home audiovisual and automation company. Photo courtesy HD Media Systems.
Robotic Houses — continued from Page 15 Although right now a lot of these home features require human interaction, Balsman believes the technology is currently on the cusp of becoming truly autonomous. “Honestly, in my opinion, that’s where we’re at right now,” he says. “What you’re seeing and what you’re starting to see the focus of most of the automation companies is to truly make it automated, where it’s truly a matter of scheduling or where the house is interactive on its own attributes. That’s the next step.” With current technology, the push of a button can control anything that’s tied into the Savant system, including elevators and even a quirky chandelier in the winning home that flashes to show that the bathroom is out of toilet paper. “But it’s still by the press of a button,” Balsman admits. “So the next step is really getting the house to interact on different scenarios or different themes, so to speak.” Right now there are a few fairly standard automated features, like blinds and shades that adjust to outdoor lighting and weather or turning on and off a pool’s features. In the future, the end user could input his feedA child’s bedroom from the Electronic House Home of the Year winner. Once they reach a certain age, the kids in the home also use iPads, iPhones and iPod Touches to control a limited number of settings. Photo courtesy HD Media Systems.
back and the house could react to that automatically. Some technologies in their infancy now incorporate Bluetooth sensing, says Balsman, so the house can sense where its inhabit-
“There are some advantages to that,” ex-
Balsman can also update home features on
ants are at all times. For example, if a par-
plains Balsman. “It’s extremely robust, the
the fly and remotely. He recently altered a
ent is driving near the house, its gates and
GUI [graphical user interface] is fantastic.
home for the school year so that the lights
garage door can open automatically when
Their product is probably the most solid,
of the house and a song slowly wake the
it senses the car is coming near.
stable platform I’ve ever seen.”
children when it’s time to get ready. And
The Electronic House home has been functioning for a year without a single crash, he says, “and in my experience, that’s unheard of.”
Savant system around Apple, whenever the tech giant releases a new operating system, the home gets automatically updated with it. Mission Critical
the children how much time they have left before they have to leave the house.
“The trick is to start integrating all those different aspects of your daily life and start doing it automatically.”
“Once they understand what’s capable, it’s
Also, by structuring the backbone of the
when it gets to crunch time, a voice tells
really just up to your imagination to come
Danielle Lucey is managing editor of Mis-
up with different scenarios that are useful
for them, which I think that’s the key,” Balsman says.
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A world of home robots
STATE OF THE ART
Though Michigan is known more for its automotive industry, it also has another market cornered: robotic litter box cleaning. Made by Automated Pet Care Products Inc., the Litter-Robot takes care of the kitty litter scooping for days, sensing when the cat leaves the litter box and then cleaning it through a rotating motion. Warning though: The sensor isn’t strong enough to sense kittens and small cats and could send them tumbling if left automatic mode.
Nashua is home to VGo Communications, makers of a robot that may one day join the workforce. The telepresence robot VGo can act as a remote professional or student, which it did for a ninth grader in Knox City, Texas, this year whose immune system was too compromised to attend school.
Bedford, Mass. The headquarters for iRobot Corp., the Boston metro area has churned out millions of robotic vacuums in the company’s flagship product, the Roomba. Other current at-home helpers include a floor washer, pool cleaner and gutter clearer.
Berkeley, Calif. Researchers at the University of California Berkeley are working hard at making a robot that performs one of the most monotonous chores: the laundry. The robot currently only folds items — pretty slowly at that — but in the future the team aims for it to complete the entire laundry process.
Menlo Park, Calif. Employees at Menlo Park company Willow Garage tasked a robot with a dream job for any couch potato that doesn’t want to miss a second of Monday Night Football® — a robot that will fetch you a beer. The company used its PR2 and programmed it to get you specific brands of beer out of the fridge, and it’ll even tell you if your favorite brew has been dried up.
Under the leadership of Charles Kemp, Georgia Tech’s Healthcare Robotics Lab has worked since 2007 to develop robotic systems that assist the elderly or disabled with manipulating their environments.
The perfect combination of helper robots or telepresence tools may not be in every home just yet, but they are scattered across the globe, coming from a variety of companies in different parts of the world. Here’s a look at a collection of places making robots right now that could be our future personal assistants.
Örebro, Sweden Örebro University is spearheading the panEuropean program ExCITE (Enabling SoCial Interaction Through Embodiment), which is monitoring the use of telepresence robots in individual homes and in assisted living spaces in a multi-country, multi-year study.
Jinan, Shandong Province, China At the Dalu Robot Restaurant in Jinan, robots have replaced the front-of-the-house staff, serving as receptionists, hosts and even waiters. Though human cooks still handle the food in the kitchen, tracked robots riding bicycles offer patrons drinks and dishes on their own.
Stuttgart, Germany Stuttgart’s claim to robotic fame is the development of the Care-O-bot, created by the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation. The mobile household aid was created in 1998 and works as an “interactive butler,” according to the institute.
Tokyo, Japan Tokyo’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, or AIST, was the birthplace of Paro, the robotic baby harp seal tasked at having a soothing effect on hospital patients and nursing home residents. The product is now sold in the U.S. by PARO Robots U.S. Inc., headquartered in Itasca, Ill., and in Europe via the Paro Clinic in Odense, Denmark.
Hong Kong, China Pardesia, Israel Pardesia is home to retailer Friendly Robotics, which supplies products to the United States, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The company released Robomow, its robotic lawn mower, in 1998. It has also made robotic vacuum cleaners and golf carts.
Hong Kong holds the headquarters of WowWee Group Ltd., a company that, in addition to a long line of toys, makes the Wi-Fi enabled Rovio, a mobile webcam that lets the user interact with its environment through audio and video. Coupled with a TrueTrack Room Beacon, the robot can navigate waypoints, keeping watch over the premises.
Robots at the
Using telepresence robots to make the workplace, home life more flexible by brett davis
ome new sales figures have come in, and you need to discuss them
with your team. Problem: They’re in Seattle and you’re on vacation in the Bahamas. Solution: Call up the office manager and say, “Get the robots out of the closet; we need to have a team meeting.” Not long after, you’re able to control a robot via long distance, looking at the charts with its camera, talking with your colleagues via its speakers and microphones. When the meeting breaks up, you’re able to walk to the kitchen with one colleague to conclude a bit of unfinished business. When the meeting is all done, the robot goes back in the closet, and you signal the waiter for another drink. Farfetched? Not at all. Although there are still a few kinks to work out, it’s already been done.
Google’s robots Researcher Katherine Tsui of the University of Massachusetts Lowell worked with colleagues Munjal Desai and Holly Yanco and Google Inc.’s Chris Uhlik to test how telepresence robots could function in an office environment. In a study conducted in the summer of 2010, the researchers studied the various ways that telepresence robots could be used at the search engine giant. Although Google has sophisticated video conferencing equipment, it didn’t yet have robots, Tsui says (Google co-founder Larry Page had one, but it was for his personal use). The top half of Hugo, a VGo Communications telepresence robot, has been augmented with a light-up LED tie used to indicate the robot’s current status. The driver can be seen on Hugo’s screen. Photo by Adam Norton.
“It’s a novel thing, people like to use it. It’s just going to be a few years before they become really pervasive and people use them instead of video conferencing,” she tells Mission Critical. However, “there’s a lot of talk about how much work gets done in social contact. That’s where being outside of a standard video conference room really helps.”
In a paper presented at the 2011 HumanRobot Interaction conference in Switzerland, Tsui and her partners noted, “commercial telepresence robots can be described as embodied video conferencing on wheels. These new telepresence robots provide a physical presence and independent mobility in addition to communication, unlike other video conferencing technologies.” The researchers introduced two robot models to Google: the QB, built by Mountain View, Calif.-based Anybots, and the VGo, built by VGo Communications of Nashua, N.H. The QB stands a bit over six feet, has three microphones, two cameras and one speaker. The VGo is four feet tall, has four microphones, one camera and two speakers. The researchers placed those robots in a variety of team meeting settings. In some, the teams were “hub-hub,” meaning most of the
Hugo, an augmented VGo Communications telepresence robot, is being driven remotely and being used to walk alongside a colleague, actively participating in a mobile conversation. The driver can be seen on Hugo’s screen. Kate Tsui is the robot driver and next to her is Adam Norton, an educator and designer working in the UMass Lowell Robotics Lab. Photo by John Fertitta.
team was working in one of two places. In others, the arrangement was “hub-spoke,” with most workers in one place and a few situated elsewhere. The findings? The robots were used for 16 meetings of the various teams. Of those, in only six cases could the robots be used all the way through. In 10 of the meetings,
Beyond that, the findings indicate that the
have prior experiences being a team mem-
usefulness of telepresence robots can hinge
ber at the hub, and they missed that kind of
on how the workers are arranged and what
social interaction that they had,” Tsui said.
sort of connections they’ve had before.
Tsui and her partners also looked at the use
“the robot drivers resorted to using video
“We believe that telepresence robots will
of telepresence robots for hallway conver-
conferencing partway through the meeting
be best used by people who are in hub-
sations after a main meeting ended. Often,
or at the start of the meeting due to techni-
spoke team configurations and are in the
work talk continues as employees walk out
cal issues with the robots.”
spoke position, particularly for people who
of formal meetings. That’s one place where
change locations to a spoke after being
video conferencing can’t follow, but robots
part of a hub,” Tsui and her partners wrote
Technical issues included maintaining a clear audio and video connection, ensuring that the robot operators could hear and
in the paper.
The researchers recruited participants who
be heard by the people in the room and
In one instance, the manager and employ-
didn’t know each other and paired them for
those video conferencing, and mitigating
ee were used to talking via speakerphone
walking and talking sessions. One of each
feedback from the multiple speaker and
and didn’t need to look at the same charts
was randomly chosen to drive the robot.
microphone configurations needed to use
and graphs, so the robot was overkill.
the robots and video conferencing simultaneously.
The results showed that robots that might be peo-
good for a regular meeting aren’t yet great
ple feel like they’re still part of the
for hallway chats. The human participant
It wasn’t that the robots were bored or just
team, but it’s better if that bond exist-
had to walk slightly ahead of the robot and
didn’t like meetings.
ed before the robots were introduced.
look back to see the other participant’s face
“A lot of businesses, at least in the 1990s,
on the screen, which is unnatural. Also, the
one strategy they used to make new em-
person driving the robot had to pay atten-
ployees feel part of the company was to
tion to avoid obstacles and steer while also
fly them out there for a couple of days or a
trying to talk.
“In those cases, it was mostly that the robots we were using were still in prerelease form, so we had beta-ready QB and alpha-ready VGo systems that were still actively being developed,” Tsui says.
week. I know that two of the operators did Mission Critical
Telerobotics — continued from Page 21 Adding more motion autonomy would help, as would the addition of a swiveling head.
suffered strokes or similar traumas.
ple connecting to the unit” and “the type of
“Each Wednesday one particular group is
environment in which the Giraff system is placed,” Loutfi writes.
“It’s better for the person talking if the robot
visited by the head of the center via the Gi-
is moving more like people do,” Tsui says.
raff robot,” ExCITE’s Amy Loutfi, an associ-
Loutfi says she expects telepresence to play
ate professor at Örebro University’s Centre
a significant role in future social interaction.
for Applied Autonomous Sensor Systems,
“In fact, if you look at how most novice
writes in an email. “She collects updates on
computer users use ICT [interactive commu-
their status and may ask them to perform
nication technologies], it is predominantly
certain exercises to evaluate their progress.”
for social interaction. I think robotics is no
The other site is an assisted living facility in
exception and I think for very specific ap-
a small town in the north of Sweden, where
plications, robotic telepresence has a role
“I think the real benefit there is for the infor-
the Giraff is used in a common area so
mal sort of meetings. I’m looking for some-
the residents can interact with friends and
one, I need to do a quick brainstorm, face
family. “Today’s senior citizens are active
to face would be easier, but I can’t just hop
members of society, with wide social circles
In the future Down the line, Tsui foresees that offices of 25 to 30 people or more might have telepresence robots parked throughout the building for meeting use.
on a flight and come over there,” she says.
Robots at home That leads to another scenario. Say your grandmother lives alone but is getting on
The robots would need to work well so
up in years and you’re worried that she’s
“Today’s senior citizens are
users could just use them without thinking
not taking her medicine, or eating right, or
active members of society, with
about their function.
she turns on the air conditioning when she
Tsui and the other researchers say future
wide social circles to friends,
means to turn on the heater.
studies could look at how the interpersonal
family and former colleagues.
You don’t live nearby but you’d like to visit
relationships between robot drivers and
However, the onset of age
with her more often, and not just on the
their human colleagues change over time
phone. Could a telepresence robot help
related impairment can often
and how office bystanders who don’t use
lead to decreased mobility,
the robots perceive them.
Researchers at Georgia Tech and Willow
In the meantime, however, Tsui is embark-
social interaction and a
Garage looked into such a scenario, pair-
ing on a study of how telepresence robots
sensation of isolation.”
ing elderly study participants with robots
can benefit people who are hospitalized but still want to visit their families. She has
that they could drive or that others could drive to come visit them.
– Amy Loutfi
set up telepresence robots with three peo-
Jenay Beer of Georgia Tech’s School of
ple at a hospital and plans to begin that
Psychology — a graduate student in the
work in October. Researchers in Europe are also conducting a study of using telepresence robots for social purposes in a pan-European effort named Enabling SoCial Interaction Through Embodiment (ExCITE), which uses
of friends, family and former colleagues. However, the onset of age related impairment can often lead to decreased mobility, social interaction and a sensation of isolation,” she writes. ExCITE is being coordinated by Swe-
bot. The design of the robot is expected to
change as the manufacturer incorporates
feedback from users in the studies.
There are two current ExCITE test sites (ultimately there will be a dozen spread over three countries, with each operating for eight months to a year). One is a daily rehabilitation center for patients who have
worked with Leila Takayama of Willow Garage to examine how a dozen elderly citizens, aged 63 to 88, interacted with telepresence robots and how they felt about using them.
Giraff Technologies’ Giraff telepresence ro-
Human Factors and Aging Laboratory —
Italy, the University of Malaga of Spain and the Giraff maker, based in Sweden. “What we want to see is in which environ-
Willow Garage produces the Personal Robot 2, the TurtleBot and developed the Texai, which is now sold by a spin-off company named Suitable Technologies Inc. Beer and Takayama worked with prototype versions of Texai for their study.
ment we can expect the Giraff to have the
The researchers looked at older adults who
greatest utility. So the major differences [be-
had no apparently disabilities or mental
tween the test sites] are ... the type of peo-
“We focused on healthy, independent older
softer curves,” Takayama says. “I think
of use (nine percent). “I thought etiquette
adults,” Beer tells Mission Critical. “Most
they just want it to look more finished, par-
would be in there somewhere, but I didn’t
adults live independently in their own
ticularly if it’s in a home environment. …
think it would be that important,” Takayama
homes. A lot of research has focused on
They don’t want it to be an eyesore in their
says. “I thought it would be safety.”
adults with dementia or in nursing homes,
assisted living sort of settings, but we wanted to focus on independent adults.”
There was another surprise: The partici-
Some participants also found the mouse-
pants were really more interested in using
click interface for driving the robot to be
the robot to go outside, such as to concerts
In a paper delivered at the HRI 2011 con-
less than perfect, so future home telepres-
or sporting events, than they were to have
ference, Beer and Takayama wrote that
ence robots may need more familiar mech-
one rattling around the house.
while it’s commonly assumed that the elder-
anisms, such as steering wheels.
ly don’t accept new technology, that’s not what they found with this pool of a dozen California residents.
“There’s a lot of research that’s looking
One of the major surprises that came from
at putting robots in the home,” Takayama
the research was that the participants were
says. “A lot of these adults were saying,
very concerned about the etiquette of using
‘I’d rather drive the robot somewhere else.’
“The older adults were surprisingly posi-
telepresence robots. If the phone rings, you
You could put the robot in a concert hall or
tive about the idea of using a mobile robot
can just ignore it. If a robot shows up at
the baseball stadium, and then I can go to
system, and they definitely could see the
your door with your friend’s face beaming
those events and be there in a way that I
benefits it could have on their lives. There
expectantly from the monitor, that’s a little
can’t be just watching it on television. That’s
were many more benefits than concerns,”
harder to do.
the flip opposite of a lot of work that’s being
“Older adults mentioned at length about
done right now.”
The participants “mentioned they could see
etiquette, that using the Texai would be a
So, just as future workplaces may have
a benefit of using a telepresence system
lot different than using a telephone,” Beer
telepresence robots stashed in the closet,
over a telephone,” she says. “They could
says. “With a system where there’s visual-
concert halls and ballparks could have their
see the person and have a more intimate
ization incorporated, there’s a whole new
own collections, so you could make sure
interaction with that person. They also men-
set of social rules that might have to be put
your grandmother ate her dinner and then
tioned reduced travel time. Losing the abil-
take her out to the ballgame.
ity to drive would affect that.”
Eighteen percent of the participants listed et-
In the study, each participant interacted
iquette as a major concern, even
with a visitor who operated the robot, and
more than were concerned about
each participant also used the robot to visit
privacy (15 percent) or difficulty
someone else. That led to one surprising finding: The participants preferred driving the robot to having someone else visit them. “They said, ‘I don’t want my kids visiting me all the time. I want them to visit me, but not
Georgia Tech’s Jenay Beer, right, works with a study particpant and a Texai telepresence robot. Photos courtesy Jenay Beer.
just whenever they want. And I want to visit places that would otherwise be difficult for me to get to,’” Takayama says. Some of the participants did not find the robots to be perfect. The Texai resembles a laptop on a stick, and some of the study group said they would prefer it to have rounded edges. “The older adults would say it has very sharp corners and edges. That’s not the same as saying we want it to be more humanoid. That’s saying we want it to have
Control: How a robot can
enry Evans was forced into the role of
In the years since, he has been aided by
Willow Garage and learned they were
becoming a robot user.
various technologies, from a laser pointer
nearby. I emailed them and to my surprise
that would allow him to turn on a television
they responded right away and were inter-
to his latest, much more ambitious endeav-
ested. They immediately introduced me to
or — controlling a robot.
Dr. Kemp, who was already doing some-
When he was 40 years old, Evans,
father of three, suffered a brain stem stroke that left him mute and paraplegic. Through enormous work, he was able to gain limited
Last year, “I was lying in bed, watching TV
use of one finger and can now move his
as usual, and suddenly I was staring at this
wonderful robot,” Evans writes in an email
thing similar to this and was extremely enthusiastic. One thing led to another, and here we are!”
interview with Mission Critical. “Almost im-
Evans, the company and the lab are col-
mediately I imagined using it as a surrogate
laborating on a project called Robots for
for my own worthless body. I even imag-
Humanity, aimed at showing the potential
ined the type of interface I would need to
for personal robots to assist people with dis-
drive it with my head tracker.”
would look at a specific group of letters and
The robot he saw was Willow Garage’s Per-
“I actually came up with the name Robots
someone — often his wife — would read
sonal Robot 2, as used by Georgia Tech’s
for Humanity about five years ago,” Evans
out the letters until she reached the one he
Healthcare Robotics Laboratory, founded
writes. “I imagined developing technolo-
wanted, at which time he would blink. As
and headed by Charles C. Kemp.
gies to help disabled people and raising
Other than that, the California resident is dependent on technology to help him communicate with the outside world. Initially after his stroke, he relied on “the board,” a panel with letters arranged in groups. He
he wrote in his blog, it was maddeningly slow.
“As soon as my wife got me up, I Googled
money for them from people who had made
Henry Evans, in wheelchair, his wife, Jane, and staff from Willow Garage and Georgia Tech’s Healthcare Robotics Laboratory. Steve Cousins (president of Willow Garage), and Charlie Kemp (director of the robotics lab) are to the right of the PR2 robot. Photo courtesy Georgia Tech.
help when your body fails money in electronics in Silicon Valley (or by getting a government grant). I even tried,
Evans, the company
All of the technologies he has used, includ-
and the lab are
my environment,” he writes. Robotics can
halfheartedly, raising money, and sent out many emails soliciting help. Nothing stuck until I met Steve [Cousins, president and CEO of Willow Garage] and Charlie. It turned out they were already doing this, and we just joined forces. They refined my interface and liked the name.” The team has developed a variety of interfaces, tools and control software for Evans to use. All of the controls are Web based, so he doesn’t need to download anything, according to Georgia Tech graduate student Philip Grice. Evans had earlier used
“serve as an interface between the person’s mind and their environment (in any number
collaborating on a
of ways) when they can no longer do it with their body.”
project called Robots
He does have some thoughts for improvements, however.
for Humanity, aimed at showing the potential for personal robots
PowerPoint to design an interface for using the robot.
ing the robot, “have to help me manipulate
to assist people with
This spring, researchers from Georgia Tech his wife Jane in California. For the first time
face, a direct BMI (brain-machine interface) would be ideal.” Also, future devices must adhere to what he calls the “caregiver principle.” “The following principle is also fundamental to whatever we do. It is not obvious and took me years to learn. It is: The caregiver
and Willow Garage met with Evans and
“I would like a faster communications inter-
principle — no matter how much assistance a device provides to a patient, it will not
in a decade, he was able to control the
be used regularly unless it also takes no
robot and scratch his own face. On a later
time to either set up or use by the caregiver
visit, he was able to use PR2 to shave his
“Everybody, including me, is busily work-
and unless it makes the cargiver’s life … a
ing on the next series of capabilities and in-
lot easier (does not apply to medical treat-
terfaces, and I would prefer to wait until we
ments ordered by the physician).”
“It is much easier to do something yourself (via the robot) than it is to try to describe to someone else what I want done,” he writes. “It’s also really satisfying to have complete control over what you say/do, like most people do.”
know that they work before we talk about them,” he writes. “We should have more to say by Christmas. In general, though, I often remotely pilot the robot at Georgia Tech, and I provide user feedback to every-
Georgia Tech’s Kemp says, “This is just the beginning. We hope to really push on these technologies so robots like this can actually help people every day.”
Evans is able to issue commands to the PR2, which can be either in the same room with him or thousands of miles away — he often remotely controls Georgia Tech’s PR2 from his home. Using a head tracker, he can directly move the robot’s body, including its arms and head. He can also invoke the robot’s autonomous behaviors, such as having it
move to his wheelchair and reach out to
To see a video about Henry Evan’s work with Willow
a pre-selected location so he could scratch
Garage and Georgia Tech, click this barcode or scan it
with your smartphone.
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Elementary diagnosis, Dr. Watson Q&A Martin Ford is the founder of a Silicon Valley-based software development firm. His book, “The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future,” explores questions of how accelerating computer technology contributed to the current global economy and whether more disruptive impacts lie ahead. In a recent opinion piece for The Washington Post, Ford discussed how IBM’s supercomputer, Watson, could improve health care. IBM announced in September that it would team up with insurance company WellPoint to use Watson as a sort of automated clinician’s assistant. In the article, Ford argues that Watson’s new role in health care could mean big changes in healthcare procedures, costs and jobs. And the impact of the technology reaches far beyond the world of medicine.
“I think that in a field like
What are some of the benefits Watson could bring to health care?
medicine if you were really
Basically, I think the initial role is going to be sort of a check against mistakes to make sure all options are considered. You can have a doctor put the information in there, and then it can access and assimilate information all over the place.
talking about a truly automated doctor, you’d need what we call true artificial intelligence, which lets you think and go beyond
I can imagine a time where anytime you see a doctor it will access the system, and
what Watson does. That’s a
that will create a sort of standard for checking information to make sure everything’s
very controversial topic.”
There are popular diagnostic health tools currently available on websites like WebMD. How does Watson’s decisionmaking process differ from these simple tools?
old patient histories and things like that. It’s more than just doing an Internet search; it takes it to the next level where you have cognitive involvement of the machine trying to put it together and make sense of things.
While Watson may be an accurate physician, bedside manner is also very important to patients. What can be done to improve artificial intelligence in this area?
In the near term, one might possibly would be able to create a new level of professional, meaning someone who only has a bachelor or master’s degree that can handle that bedside manner aspect and be an interface
cess to information from everywhere to cre-
for the system, perform exams, work on that
personal side without having to go to medi-
When you apply that to a field like medi-
cine, you can enter a more generic ques-
The thing about Watson is it’s like on “Jeop-
tion and it will draw information from dif-
ardy,” where the question can literally come
ferent fields; it will draw information on
from anywhere, so Watson has to have ac-
cal school. It would be a more basic clinical
I think that in a field like medicine, if you were really talking about a truly automated doctor, you’d need what we call true artificial intelligence, which lets you think and go beyond what Watson does. That’s a very controversial topic.
Scan this barcode with your smartphone to see Watson in action on “Jeopardy.”
What opportunities are there for other hospitals, software companies and engineers to work together to bring technology similar to that of Watson to more hospitals?
Q & A — continued from Page 27
Keeping data secured online is going to be
ware. Moore’s Law should help address
What technological advancements need to be made to proliferate the use of artificial intelligence and robotics in health care?
this issue in time, but there will be plenty
I think the technology that interests me the
we’re going to have to see more informa-
The most obvious opportunity will be to make the system more affordable, so it can successfully run on less expensive hard-
of opportunities to optimize the system so it can produce good results on more modest hardware.
most is really machine learning. I think it’s something that’s really poised to take off and, of course, it’s one of the primary
How else would Watson’s role in hospitals impact health care costs?
It seems likely that Watson will ultimately result in fewer diagnostic errors and a higher probability of optimum treatments being
technologies that powers Watson — taking data and historical information in particular. In medicine, you would look at case histories, what was the condition of this patient and what was the diagnosis and what was the eventual outcome, to see if
a huge issue for this population because everything’s going online, not just medical information. It’s probably inevitable that tion move online; there’s no running away from it. The answer is not to keep everything in paper form.
Do you foresee machines becoming so sophisticated that they might as well be autonomous, even if they technically are not? What current technological hurdles, if any, stand in the way of this?
the diagnosis was correct. You have a lot of
I think that in a field like medicine, if you
data there that machines could easily turn
were really talking about a truly automated
through and basically, in essence, program
doctor, you’d need what we call true artifi-
itself to solve similar problems in the future.
cial intelligence, which lets you think and
And that’s something that I think is going to
go beyond what Watson does. That’s a
At some point in the further future, if Wat-
get applied all over the place in the econ-
very controversial topic. If you talk to peo-
omy, particularly in health care. Watson is
ple who are real experts in the field, they’re
just one example.
optimists … like Ray Kurzweil, who is a
initiated right from the start. That should result in lower overall costs. These benefits may not appear immediately — it may take some time for the technology to establish a
son comes to be widely accepted as a definitive resource, it could offer some protection against malpractice liability if doctors diligently use the system to ensure that all diagnostic and treatment possibilities are considered.
What other unmanned or robotic systems do you see making waves in the healthcare industry?
Anything that’s routine in a hospital that doesn’t really require a high skill level. In Japan, there’s a lot of effort being put into robots and machines that can assist with the care of older people, that kind of thing. To a certain extent, it’s a matter of social acceptance. Japan has got a very different culture; they view robots in a very positive way, whereas in the United States, not so
big proponent of artificial intelligence and
The healthcare industry has strict privacy requirements. How does the use of artificial intelligence in the field challenge the ethics of privacy in health care?
I certainly think it’s an issue. I think that ultimately it’s probably inevitable that we’re going to have to see more information move online. I think in terms of privacy …
something called singularity. That’s maybe 20 years away, and I think that would be a very optimistic view. There are some people with a lot of experience in the field that say that it’s never going to happen. If we get to that point where we can build a machine that can really think like a human being, then all bets are off at that point.
part of it honestly is the insurance fear in the country. I think it’s a very justified fear on the part of a lot of people. If this information gets out there, then insurance companies are going to use it to discriminate against people. That really has to do with structural problems and insurance and how we do that.
much. It’s going to be a question of whether populations of patients will be comfortable interacting with the robots in terms of actual care where they actually get touched by the robots and things like that. It may take a little more time. Initially, I think it’s going to be more behind the scenes.
For More Information: http://www.thelightsinthetunnel.com http://econfuture.wordpress.com
Doctor/House FUTURE JOBS
hough home and healthcare robots
a year, compared to surgeons, who can
more [robotic] doctors on the ground to
are similar in their forecasted uses
make upwards of $600,000, according to
deal with things that are more chronic like
— whether aiding people either out
2010 statistics from the Medical Ground
diabetes and obesity.”
of physical necessity or purely the desire to never vacuum again — the future job markets for each appear to have divergent paths. Though medical robots may simply help patch the bleeding need for more physicians, the personal robotics market is quickly gaining pace. The days where robots are performing nearly every essential job in a medical setting are far from the present. However,
But the growing use of robotic technology
Currently the lion’s share of medical robots
could, in the long run, turn into too much
that have been sold are surgical aids, and
of a good thing, and that’s a bad thing for
until technology — not to mention culture
the human job market. While Ford doesn’t
— changes to allow wide-scale adoption of
think human beings will ever be completely
autonomous surgical robots, these jobs are
eliminated from the home and health care
likely not in danger.
industry, “part of the problem is things
The need for human interaction in primary care isn’t dwindling either.
evolve so quickly,” he says. “My concern is in the near term, singularity … technology is going to go vertical.
many developed nations are on the cusp of
Things are advancing so rapidly nobody
a population shift, where the median age
really knows what’s going on. It’s not just
will rise. This issue is so pervasive that the
a question of technology, it’s a question of
18 countries that currently don’t have this
problem are called “demographic outliers” in a United Nations 2005 Human Develop-
While the impact of medical robots may
only supplement current jobs, the home robotics market is forecast to make a huge
Coinciding with this aging population is-
impact. The International Federation of Ro-
sue is a steep decline in people entering the medical profession. Currently only 30 percent of doctors in the United States practice primary care, an area of medicine that, if patients went to consistently, could bring down the overall cost of health care in the United States by $67 billion a year.
botics estimates that since first quarter statis(Left to right) Martin Ford, author of “The LIghts in the Tunnel,” Michael Lind, policy director for the New America Foundation’s Economic Growth Program, and Tyler Cowen, chair of economics George Mason University and The New York Times columnist, debate how robots will impact future economy at an event in September in Washington, D.C.
A University of Missouri study estimates that the United States could experience a shortage of about 44,000 family practice and general internists over the next 20 years. Compound to that issue is that doctors are also cutting hours back, due to concerns of exhaustion on the job. The Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that average work hours for doctors have decreased from 55 to 51 per week from 1996 to 2008 — the equivalent of losing 36,000 doctors in a decade. This is where the robots come in.
tics, robot sales have increased 53 percent this year versus 2010. For 2009, the IFR estimates one million robotic vacuums and 26,000 lawn mowing robots were sold. Cleaning robots and medical robots current account for 8 percent of the total market. “Mobile platforms
On the engineering side, computer engi-
for general use” are at 6 percent. They es-
neer and author Martin Ford says he sees
timate that the sales value of personal and
plenty of job opportunities for engineers
domestic use robots from 2011-2014 will
and people with the correct technical skills.
be $5.4 billion.
But he also envisions a new type of healthcare job in which workers would serve as an interface for medical robotics systems. Employee and robot would work together to jointly perform the role of a traditional doctor. “We have to acknowledge we’re going to have a shortage of primary care physi-
There is a simple reason that doctors shy
cians,” Ford says. “Most doctors want to
away from primary care. Physicians in this
specialize in a field that’s very lucrative.
field make on average around $170,000
We may have a situation where we need
Since Jeff Beck, president of iRobot’s home robots division, started at the company two years ago, he estimates they have hired 200 people. “You can think of those as high-skilled jobs,” he says. They’re technicians, they’re engineers, marketing professionals, sales professionals,
Those are really good jobs.”
A stitch in time
The beginnings of the robotic surgery business found two companies pitted against each other for market dominance. After years of closely following one another in achievements and a series of patent lawsuits, Computer Motion and Intuitive Surgical Inc. found a creative solution to their problem.
Computer Motion, an emerging robotic surgery company, is founded in Goleta, Calif.
Aesop 1000, the first robotic surgery product by company Computer Motion, is created. Much like a third arm for a surgeon, the robot can hold an endoscopic camera during laparoscopic surgery, an incision type that uses a small keyhole-sized entry point. It is the first robotic surgical aid to gain FDA certification.
1990 The Stanford Research Institute International gets funding by DARPA to work on a robotic surgery system capable of operating remotely on soldiers on the battlefield.
1995 Also created by Computer Motion, the Zeus Robotic Surgical System, a threearmed device attached to the side of an operating table, is demonstrated.
Computer Motion sues Intuitive Surgical on eight counts of patent infringement.
5 0 20
0 0 20
As a solution to the lawsuit, Computer Motion and Intuitive Surgical merge and phase out the ZEUS robotic system. The companies agree to headquarter in Sunnyvale, Calif., the location of Intuitive Surgical.
Zeus gains FDA approval.
9 9 5
The da Vinci Surgical System, by Intuitive Surgical, a company formed out of the Stanford Research Institute International, gains FDA approval. Originally called Lenny, the systemâ€™s 3-D imaging ability earns it a unique spot in the emerging field of robotic surgery.
The FDA approves the da Vinci system for prostate surgery.
1998 The Zeus robotic system performs the first fallopian tube reconnection surgery as a part of a clinical trial at the Cleveland Clinic.
1998 1996 Computer Motion releases the Aesop 2000 model, with added voice control.
The Leipzig Heart Centre in Germany performs the first robotically assisted heart bypass surgery using the da Vinci Surgical System.
Anatomy of a robotic hospital Unmanned systems play a growing role in health care By Stephanie levy
Just what the doctor ordered: a robotic presence in the E.R. assists with surgery. Photo courtesy InTouch Health.
completes your surgery in less time than a
Dr. Vipur R. Patel, associate professor of
conventional surgical procedure and has
urology at the University of Central Flori-
you out the door to a faster recovery. Af-
da. The first robotic surgery systems were
ter your surgery, another robot collects any
developed with the goal of being used in
leftover trash from the emergency room and
theater for cardiac surgery but were large-
delivers it to the dumpsters.
ly unsuccessful. However, they proved to
This may sound like a scene from a sci-fi movie, but in fact it shows a growing trend
“The prostate is a confined space in the
in hospitals. Through remote consultations,
pelvis that’s very difficult to do laparoscopi-
cally [done with a small camera through
hospital administration, experts say the in-
a small abdominal incision], but with the
magine: You walk into a hospital
creased use of unmanned systems in health
robot you have the illumination, magnifica-
and an automated computer system
care actually brings patients closer to their
tion, and very delicate, small instruments
that let us operate in a confined field,” Pa-
checks you in for care. After being escorted to a nearby room, a robot rolls through the door, with your doctor’s face smiling on a small television screen. After a brief consultation, your doctor decides you need medicine. You then walk to the hospital pharmacy,
“Robot capabilities are getting better and
This year, Patel’s hospital received a $1.2
ecutive Vice President Steve Jordan. “We
million grant from the U.S. Department of
have a lot more that we’re capable of do-
Defense to help develop telepresence sur-
ing. The next 10 to 20 years are going to
gery. The technologies could have applica-
bring amazing things.”
tions in far-ranging environments, from the battlefield to outer space.
prescription. An automated computer system accesses your insurance information to
“If you had a robot that could stabilize [pa-
make sure the medication is properly paid
for — and you could almost swear you’ve
Much of the robotic technology in hospitals
seen that robot on “Jeopardy.” If you re-
today originated from military objectives.
quire surgery, nurses send you to an oper-
Military physicians and engineers “shot at
ating room where a robotic surgical system
the heart, but they hit the prostate,” says
better every year,” says InTouch Health Ex-
where another robot accurately fills your
have benefits for prostate surgery.
tients] after the initial injury, the chance of survival is much higher,” Patel says. “As they look forward to the space stations and so forth, they realized some sort of remote surgery is very important.”
The military has also developed robotic sys-
Watson can sift through much more infor-
tems to help amputees coming home from
mation much more quickly than a human
service. Since 2003, more than 1,100 sol-
doctor and can present it in a way that a
diers have had a limb amputated during
physician can use to recommend the best
service in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2011,
course of action. IBM experts say having
the Defense Advanced Research Projects
Watson evaluate medical data could pre-
Agency spent $100 million to develop a
vent the flaw of availability, where doctors
robotic arm that users can control through
start to prematurely formulate a diagnosis
a chip implanted in their brain. Virginia-
after briefly talking to a patient.
based Alion Science and Technology developed the 3-D model for the robotic limb based on ultrasound images. Using a syringe, doctors will be able to implant wireless sensors into a patient’s arm to optimize control of a prosthetic. This will also require doctors to find working nerves and muscles they can integrate from the injury itself.
“It’s amazing,” says Martin Ford, computer engineer and author of “The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future.” “It goes far beyond what any one person would be able to do. Making sense of that [machine learning], that’s probably going to ensure that a lot of things that fall through the cracks are going to be considered in the diagnosis. My hope for it is that it’s going to evolve into something pretty standard.”
Paging Dr. Watson Some of the robots now being used in hospitals got their start on a more public platform. In September 2011, IBM announced a partnership with WellPoint Inc. to bring its Watson computer system to “serve as a clinician’s assistant,” says Christine Vu of IBM’s research department.
Ford, who has not worked on Watson himself, says doctors at first will likely be reluctant to rely on Watson too much. Over time, the autonomous system will build a track record of information gathering and diagnostic assessment. Read more from Martin Ford about Watson in Q&A on Page 27.
Wired for care The primary use of robotic surgery systems, like Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci Surgical System, in urology is for treating prostate cancer. Patel says 80 percent of prostatectomies in the United States are done with the use of a robot. He says much of the increase is due to patient preference. “They want to have robotic surgery,” Patel says. “It’s based upon the outcomes that are being published.” By using tiny incisions during surgery, the robot allows for less blood loss during surgery and faster patient recovery. Da Vinci and other robotic surgery platforms provide surgeons with enhanced vision, precision, control and dexterity. “It has instrumentation, so we have seven degrees of freedom,” Patel says. “It looks like you’re inside of the patient when you’re operating.” Robots are now more commonly being used for surgical procedures in gynecology and general surgery. Approximately half of all myomectomies, the surgical removal of fibroid tumors in the uterus, are performed with a da Vinci robot. General surgery uses
Watson, powered by IBM POWER7, is a workload-optimized system that can answer questions posed in natural language over a nearly unlimited range of knowledge. Photo courtesy IBM.
Medical Update — continued from Page 33 extend from colorectal cancer, the third
hospital recovery time of three to four days,
specialist that might be located, let’s say,
most deadly cancer worldwide, to obesity,
as opposed to up to two weeks with tradi-
in an urban setting, in a hospital there that
which affects 72 million people in the U.S.
tional surgery. For chest-area procedures,
has a number of specialists,” Jordan says.
alone. The demand is huge.
the da Vinci surgical robot eliminates the
“Their expertise can be available at these
need for a sternotomy (an 8- to 10-inch
remote and rural hospitals.”
“All hospitals these days will have a large volume of prostate cancer procedures or gynecological procedures with a robot,” Patel says. “A lot of the procedural problems have gone away.” In cardiology, da Vinci is commonly used to treat mitral valve prolapse, when a heart valve does not properly seal, and coronary artery disease, a narrowing of the blood vessels that supply the heart. Cardiac patients who choose da Vinci surgery to repair their mitral valve have an average in-
incision through the breastbone), making patient recovery faster and hospital stays shorter.
Still, many of the benefits of robotic surgery come from the manned side of the operation. The basic learning curve for a physi-
InTouch Health uses its RP-7 robots to as-
cian using a robot during surgery is about
sist stroke patients in rural areas, because
50 cases, making experience the No. 1
the technology allows doctors to lend them-
predictor of the outcome of surgery.
selves to remote hospitals and patients as needed. Jordan says this is especially helpful, because the number of stroke specialists is declining. “By using our technology, we can have a
“Autonomy can be applied at very different levels with very different behaviors,” Jordan says. “The trick is to apply that appropriately so that the safety and the efficacy are appropriate for what you’re trying to accomplish.” It seems robotic surgical systems have nowhere to go but up as the demand for doctors grows, especially in primary care. As more and more physicians look to lucrative specializations and big-city hospitals for employment, patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes or obesity get left in the lurch. Ford acknowledges there is a serious problem of physician shortages in rural areas and less glamorous fields of medicine. This could lead to a new type of relationship between robots and healthcare workers in which automated systems are responsible for much of the diagnostic and procedural work in patient care, while a person is still involved with the more “human” aspects of health care like bedside manner. “You already see that to some extent with nurse practitioners, but of course we also have a shortage of nurses,” Ford says. “So I think there’s an opportunity for another type of professional that’s maybe specifically trained to work with these diagnostic systems, and they might still operate under the division of doctors.”
Doctors test robotic surgical equipment on the show floor at the American Urological Association conference in Washington, D.C. Robots play a role in the majority of prostate removal surgeries. Photo by Stephanie Levy.
On the procedural side, robots are highly involved in routine hospital work. These systems make deliveries within hospitals and
hooked up to a gurney next to the patient. In the Dallas/Fort Worth area, 11 hospitals already use telepresence robots for consultations between doctors and patients. The interface allows doctors to use digital images and face-to-face interactions with patients to help with everything from routine checkups to making crisis health decisions. For more immediate care, the robot also has a special stethoscope that allows the doctor to remotely hear a patient’s heartbeat. But there is a long way to go between the exam room and the emergency room. “Telepresence surgery is something that’s not real yet, but the remote surgery is something that we’re working on,” Patel says. Patel says the next step in making robotic telepresence surgery a reality is to integrate imaging systems during surgery. Integration A doctor makes his rounds to remote patients via telepresence technology. Photo courtesy InTouch Health.
would help doctors be able to see where a patient’s cancer or injury is in relation to the surrounding nerve bundles. Once telepresence becomes a reality for
dispense prescriptions in pharmacies. Ford
interview with AUVSI. Wake Forest has
says he expects robots to primarily work in
leased two of InTouch Health’s RP-7 robots
these behind-the-scenes roles in the near
for stroke patients.
The RP-7 robot works ideally for stroke patients because it can administer thrombolic
the future, it’s possible to imagine a real
drugs, which treat blood clots, within a rap-
artificial doctor, but I don’t think we’re any-
id time window. Also, it is easier to move a
where close to that now,” Ford says.
robotic system from one patient to another, rather than moving the patient from hospital to hospital for care; this cuts down on the
Telemedical robots — systems that allow physicians to remotely access patients through a video and audio interface device — offer another level of personal care to
tors to play. Jordan says the surgeon should still be able to make the final call in these patient settings.
“In the long run, if you look really far into
Doctors without borders
surgery, there will still be a role for doc-
“We found that people are very open minded to robots,” Jordan says. “People are very embracing of it, and they feel, ‘Wow, I’m getting the best care. This is the best technology, and they’re using it to make my care better.’”
hospital’s transport costs. InTouch Health has purpose-built-in points
Stephanie Levy is associate editor of Mis-
for all its telepresence robots. Its robotic
system for hospitals differs in size and form factors from an ambulance bot that can be
patients in situations or areas where personal interaction is not possible. “To [specialists] it’s taking and elevating the quality of care and access to care to levels that are unmatched,” Jonathan Bailey, administrative director for neurosciences
For More Information: http://www.intouchhealth.com http://www.davincisurgery.com
services at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, said in a February 2010 Mission Critical
How to prevent a creepy service bot UNCANNY VALLEY
he term uncanny valley was coined
head or eyes are moving in an unnatural
short informational statement of less than
Other researchers in Japan and Hungary
So, as part of the experiment, subjects in-
teamed up to study how people responded
terfaced with a humanlike robot that talked
to cartoonish robot faces to try to gauge a
like a machine, a humanlike robot that
robot’s emotion. Designers from the Osaka
talked like a human, a machine-like robot
Institute of Technology and the Moholy-Na-
that talked like a machine or a machine-like
gy University of Art and Design in Budapest
robot that talked like a human.
Mori, who postulated that robots can
become eerie if they come close to looking like actual humans but miss the mark in small ways. Up to a point, human-like robots are more familiar, but imperfections like rubbery skin or crossed eyes can make them seem creepy and cause actual humans to feel revulsion.
devised a series of faces, some with sad eyes and happy mouths, some the other
Having creepy robots may not matter in
way around. What they learned is that
some fields, but in the area of service ro-
where some humans stand depends on
bots, including for health care and home
where they sit.
care, people need to trust their robots, not be afraid of them.
“Japanese weighed facial cues more heavily in the eye regions than Hungarians, who
Researchers around the globe — but par-
weighed facial cues more heavily in the
ticularly in Japan — are looking at ways to
mouth region that Japanese,” they discov-
fend off the uncanny valley as robots adopt
increasingly human-like behaviors and appearances.
The design of the robots also plays a role.
The results were mixed. The subjects tended to gather more information from the humanlike robot, but that could be offset if it used the robotic voice. “Results suggest that both the robots’ behavior and appearance are important but, if they are contradictory, the robots’ behavior is more powerful than the robot’s appearance in the perception of the robot as more machine-like or human-like,” the researchers said in a paper.
“Results suggest that both the robots’ behavior and appearance are important but, if they are contradictory, the robots’ behavior is more powerful than the robot’s appearance in the perception of the robot as more machine-like or human-like.”
No detail is too small. Researchers at the
Researchers at Sungkyunkwan University
Nara Institute of Science and Technology in
in Seoul studied the way people reacted
Japan studied ways to improve the eye and
to machine-like robots versus more human-
head movements of humanlike androids,
like ones — in this case, Aldebaran Robot-
particularly ones that could serve as recep-
ics’ diminutive Nao robot. The researchers
tionists for businesses. Such movements are
also examined the way the robots spoke,
important, because the androids sometimes
not just how they looked. One robot used a
need to direct human attention in a particu-
message recorded by a human radio actor;
lar way, such as by showing them where
the other used a file recorded by a text-to-
a door is located, but they can’t do that if
speech program. In both cases, the robots
the human is staring at them because their
said exactly the same thing, delivering a
Crossing the valley Examples of not-quite-there robots abound. Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University is famous for building Geminoid, a humanoid robot that looks just like him. That has since expanded into several semilifelike robots, manufactured by Japan’s Kokoro Co., which builds robotic dinosaurs and rents out “Actroids,” human-like female robots that can serve as restaurant greeters or office assistants.
Ishiguro says that one day people could communicate remotely using their robot doubles, using them like sophisticated cell phones. Scientists at the National Taiwan University of Science and Technology recently unveiled a singing robotic head that can read music and react to facial expressions. “Robots with various human-like facial expressions and conversation capabilities are useful for attracting attention from human beings and, therefore, are especially suitable for applications involving robot and human interaction,” Chyi-Yeu Lin and his researchers wrote in a paper. Although he wrote later in the paper that “people love robots and they like to watch performances of these robots,” many Internet reactions were less kind. One website described the singing, rubbery head as “creepy” and another described it as “a melodious abomination.” Austrian researchers at the University of Salzburg recently undertook an investigation of what people would like to see in a service robot, particularly one designed to operate in a public space. They had assumed that respondents would prefer an anthropomorphic robot design, but that was not the case. “In contrast to our assumptions, the results
The National Taiwan University of Science and Technology’s musical robot head, which can learn a piece of music by sight in a matter of seconds. Photo courtesy the NTUST.
showed that the participants did not prefer a merely anthropomorphic design for an interactive urban robot, but a combination of anthropomorphic and functional elements,” they wrote in a paper. “Human cues like eyes and a mouth turned out to be essential in the imagination of these potential users in order to know how to interact with a robot.” The end result — which the researchers said needs more fine tuning — turned out to be a one-armed cat-like robot riding on a wheel.
To see a video of three Geminoid robots in action, scan this barcode with your smartphone.
Robots gaining popularity in UK hospitals New Glasgow hospital could follow Forth Valley’s AGV lead
By Magnus Bennett
ne of the United Kingdom’s larg-
The ATLIS forklift-type vehicles — designed
est health authorities may install
and built in the U.K. by the European op-
a fleet of robotic automatic guid-
eration of the American company JBT Corp.
ed vehicles, or AGVs, following the suc-
— are being used at Forth Valley as hospi-
cessful introduction of a U.S.-built system by
tal porters to carry bed linens, meals, clini-
another British authority last year.
cal waste and medical supplies in corridors
In August 2010, Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert, Stirlingshire, became the first hospital in Britain to use AGVs to automatically retrieve and deliver a wide range of supplies. The move by NHS Forth Valley has proven so successful that the neighboring Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board told Mission Critical that it is considering introducing a fleet at a planned new major hospital in Glasgow.
separated from the facility’s public areas. Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board confirmed that it is interested in introducing a similar system at its 800 million pound
Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert, Stirlingshire.
($1.27 billion) New Southern General Hos-
viewed different systems at a couple of oth-
pital, which is currently under construction
er sites in the U.K. to see what they offer,
and is due to open in 2014.
but no decisions have been taken yet.”
A spokeswoman said, “We have visited
The current 13-strong fleet at Forth Valley
Forth Valley hospital to look at their AGV
— which cost 1.2 million pounds ($1.9 mil-
equipment as we want to find the best sys-
lion) to install — has proven very successful
tems we can for the hospital. We have also
since its introduction a year ago, according
One of the ATLIS robots at Forth Valley porters waste. Photo courtesy JBT Corp.
to international service company Serco. Mike MacKay, Serco’s contract director at Forth Valley, said the system should pay itself off over three years. He explained, “I am very satisfied with the system as a whole. I think it does exactly what it says on the tin. We are making savings in terms of labor costs as we have been able to free up porters to undertake other tasks and focus more on patient care. No jobs have been lost as a result of their introduction and the unions are fully behind the project. There is also the benefit of reducing the chances of spreading infection as they operate behind the scenes.” Existing on-site engineers, in tandem with JBT Corp. specialists, are carrying out maintenance of the vehicles. The automatic vehicles use laser navigation technology to find their way around the facility and are equipped with front and rear electronic obstacle detection bumpers to prevent collisions. The forks of the ATLIS are equipped with an electric lift which picks up supply carts from the floor and delivers the carts to the
Robots at Forth Valley cater to patient needs without getting in the way. Photo courtesy JBT Corp.
intended destination. After arrival, the forks lower so that the supply cart is returned to the floor and the ATLIS vehicle can proceed on to its next delivery task in another area
operate behind the scenes. Older hospitals
the hospital’s drugs bill over the past year
of the hospital.
tend not to have that, and you can’t have
by reducing the amount of stock required at
AGVs moving around corridors in close
the facility. They also said the system, which
proximity to the public or patients — there
selects chosen drugs by reading barcodes
would be a risk of spreading infection as
on medicine packets, had reduced dispens-
well as the possibility of accidents.”
automatically return to a specially designed
Meanwhile, NHS Forth Valley reported an-
Lead pharmacist Jann Davidson said she
plate for recharging.
other robotic success story at its new hos-
was very pleased with the system, which
pital, which first started treating patients
was produced by pharmacy automation
a year ago and was officially opened by
The vehicles carry out a series of tasks until their battery levels drop to 60 percent of full capacity, when they send a signal out to operators that they are signing out. They then
MacKay confirmed that several health authorities had expressed interest in the system but added that not every existing health facility was suited to the AGVs. He added, “If I were asked if the robotic system could be put into a older building, I would say definitely not. The Forth Valley
Queen Elizabeth II in July of this year.
She commented, “Not only have we been
Senior staff has praised the fully automated
able to reduce our stock levels, but we have
robotic pharmacy, which stores, retrieves
also halved prescription turnaround time
and labels a wide range of drugs and
from four to two hours and full medicine
reconciliation at point of admission for 80
hospital is new and was designed to ac-
Managers at the hospital said the 400,000
commodate a robotic system with plenty of
pound ($635,000) pharmacy had slashed
elevators, corridors and space for them to
nearly 700,000 pounds ($1.1 million) off
percent of patients within 24 hours.”
POP CULTURE CORNER
rom humanoid helpers to interactive
was a tablet device that let them make their
wife, Mildred, who embodies the current
media, household robotics has been
media and chat features mobile. They also
state of affairs, constantly drowning out her
a mainstay of science fiction and fu-
had a robotic vacuum cleaner.
own thoughts through wall-sized televisions
turistic pop culture. Though depicted in a variety of ways, there is one common theme running through the few TV shows, movies and books the Mission Critical staff chose here: People really need a robot to get them out of bed and make them coffee and breakfast in the morning. Robot makers,
Named the 14th best robot of all time by
and pill popping.
pop culture magazine Paste in a 2011 poll,
A common scene to anyone walking down
Rosie, the Jetsons’ housekeeper robot, re-
the street in a city, Mildred usually drowns
mains one of the most popular depictions
out Guy by keeping a Seashell radio ear-
of how robots could be fully integrated with
piece in her ear, much like modern ear
families in the future.
buds or Bluetooth headsets.
When Mildred eventually overdoses on
“The Jetsons” actually predicted quite a few technologies that are standard home features now. They watched television on flatscreens and used a video chat feature, a lot like Skype, to communicate. A few episodes depicted a “TeleViewer,” which was a tablet device that let them make their media and chat features mobile. They also had a robotic vacuum cleaner.
Perhaps the most relevant pop culture imag-
Relegated to a spaceship after abandoning
ining of what future living could look like
a trash-covered Earth in 2085, the humans
was embodied in the characters and gad-
in the Pixar movie Wall-E live on a smart
gets in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon, “The
ship full of creature comforts.
Due to lack of gravity combined with severe
Originally released in 1962, “The Jetsons”
bone loss, all humans turn into morbidly
depicts typical family life in 2062 with high
obese couch potatoes thanks to their per-
tech home features that often go awry. Each
sonal hover chairs that keep them constant-
day, George Jetson, the father figure, gets
ly occupied with video chats and the latest
ready for work by moving through a con-
“cupcake-in-a-cup” trend as nourishment.
veyor belt system that showers, dresses and brushes his teeth for him, and Jane Jetson, the mom, can create breakfast at a push of a button.
sleeping pills, an automated blood transfusion machine filters in new blood to keep her alive. Other automated features of Guy’s house include a spider-like hand that autonomously makes toast dripping with melted butter. Guy finds a confidante in Faber, a former English professor that is against the totalitarian state but is too fearful to act against it. In one scene, Faber reveals to Guy a small tablet television device that he occasionally watches instead of the popular wall-to-wall
A book about a dystopian anti-intellectual
“I always wanted something very small,
future, society has abandoned — and has
something I could talk to, something I could blot out with the palm of my hand if neces-
“The Jetsons” actually predicted quite a
started burning — literature and instead fo-
few technologies that are standard home
cuses on mind-numbing non-stop electronic
features now. They watched television on
entertainment. Hmm … sounds familiar.
shout me down, nothing monstrous big.”
Guy Montag, the novel’s protagonist, is a
Ironic to say the least, Universal Pictures
flatscreens and used a video chat feature, a lot like Skype, to communicate. A few episodes depicted a “TeleViewer,” which
firefighter, and thus a book burner, who is starting to question his way of life. It’s his
sary,” he says to Guy. “Nothing that could
made a movie of the book 15 years after its release, and in 1986 it was turned into a video game.
‘The Stepford Wives’ First a 1972 book and then made and remade into movies in 1975 and 2004, “The Stepford Wives” is a satirical look at the subservient status of women in the town Stepford, Conn. New-to-town New York City photographer Joanna Eberhart is perplexed by the women of Stepford, who are always perfect in appearance and are at their husbands’ beck and call. The women delight in grocery shopping, cooking and household chores. Joanna becomes convinced that the housewives are actually robots, created to perfection in the Stepford men’s club. In a jarring scene near the end of the 1975 version of the movie, Joanna is coerced into robotic wife Bobbie’s house, a formerly smart women that suddenly turned vapid since moving to Stepford. Bobbie offers to perk her up with coffee instead of worrying about her missing children. Joanna cuts her own hand and then stabs Bobbie, who doesn’t bleed, proving she is a robot. Bobbie grabs the knife out of her hip and puts it back in place, all the while stuck in an eerie speech loop, “How could you do a
Image copyright iStockphoto.com/FlossArts
thing like that? I was just going to give you coffee. I thought we were friends.” Later in the men’s club, Joanna finds her own robot duplicate, which, the film suggests, kills Joanna. The robot continues on in her place, grocery shopping to its heart’s content.
‘Surrogates’ There have also been several movies and books about the use of telepresence robots to expand human experience. In the 2009 thriller “Surrogates,” Bruce Willis must investigate a murder in a time when people stay home and only interact through robotic versions of themselves, versions that are
Scan this barcode with your smartphone to see a classic scene from the 1975 version of “The Stepford Wives.”
better than the originals. The movie’s tagline is “Human perfection. What could go wrong?”
Building the better robot will take standards — and freedom
ersonal robotics in many ways mir-
For the do-it-yourselfers out there, the com-
“These guidelines are not merely a list of
rors how personal computing was
pany has its TurtleBot, a relatively cheap
desirable features, but, rather, they consti-
perceived 30 years ago, loaded with
platform that can be hacked through an
tute an essential set of features that must
Xbox Kinect to perform any number of
be incorporated in telepresence robots,”
Munjal Desai, Katherine Tsui and Holly A.
potential but missing a real application. “I think what’s missing right now is the key
application, the thing that the robot does
One day a company with a transformative
that’s just so valuable that people will go
idea could create its own proprietary soft-
Researchers concluded that telepresence
out and buy one to have it in their house,”
ware that sits atop the company’s ROS and
says Brian Gerkey, director of open source
hit it big with robotics.
development for Willow Garage.
• Dynamic video, high resolution enough
“The reason that we designed the Turtle-
to drive the robot, but the video stream
For computing, Gerkey says the tipping
Bot is we wanted to get more robots into
must also self-adjust to fluctuations in
point was the spreadsheet, which made
people’s hands,” says Gerkey. “The Turtle-
the network connection. Participants in
personal computers essential in the work-
Bot … is intended to be an application de-
the study were “willing to sacrifice the
force. What that application may be in ro-
veloper’s platform. People who have good
resolution, color depth and contrast of
botics, though, still remains to be seen.
ideas for what robots should be used for,
the incoming video feed for dynamic
the TurtleBot is something that if you are
characteristics like low latency and
reasonably motivated, you could imaging
higher frame rates.”
Though home and healthcare robotics use is on the rise, like all types of robotics, standardization is key to acceptance. There are currently standards for industrial robots,
spending a couple thousand dollars on this robot, which is fully programmable.”
• High-quality audio, at least as good as a landline telephone conversation,
dictated by the International Organization
Companies could then use the TurtleBot as
and volume controls that can adjust for
for Standardization’s Technical Committee
just the prototype for their system to start up
different work spaces
184, which works on automation systems
and integration but none for robotics that will work with people in a healthcare setting.
“You could get one of these and maybe you put an inexpensive servo-based arm on it and you work on it in your garage, and
Willow Garage aims to increase up-and-
you get all the kinks worked out, you put
coming companies’ creative freedom by fo-
together a business case and start a com-
cusing on its Robot Operating System open-
pany,” Gerkey says.
source software, which could make Willow Garage robots one day the iPhone to a roboticist’s app — a device that’s ubiquitous on its own but, through other closed-source software standing on Willow Garage’s shoulders, becomes endlessly functional.
The fashionable telepresence robot Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Lowell put two telepresence robots
• A platform-independent user interface • Adjustable height • Multiple cameras and a pan-and-tilt head • Autonomous behaviors that can take some of the burden off the robot operator, but which can be over ridden as needed. Again, standards may be the key to success.
through their paces at various Google of-
“Before telepresence robots are widely
“[It’s] this idea that I can buy this device and
fices last year [For more information, see
available, the specifications for these ro-
it does something useful out of the box, but
the feature story on telepresence robotics
bots will need to be standardized,” they
it’s extensible,” says Gerkey. “I can, down
on Page 20].
concluded. “Standards pertaining to priva-
the road, install new apps on it that give it new functionality. And also my friends who develop something new for their robot, there’s a path to get that functionality on my robot. They can just upload their app to the robot app store, and I can download it on my robot. “ 42
In so doing, they developed a series of recommendations for developers of such robots to make them more useful and therefore more likely to be accepted in the workplace.
cy and security must be established. Also, standardizing robot operations systems and communication protocols will help improve interoperability between robots.”
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The hands of da Vinci END USERS
hen Dr. Ronan Lev was a resi-
loss during the procedure. In a traditional
up a patient after surgery, much easier. A
dent at Washington Univer-
open prostatectomy, a patient can lose up
surgeon makes an intuitive swooping mo-
sity School of Medicine in St.
to a liter of blood, one-fifth of the average
tion, and the robot can emulate this motion
Louis, robotic surgical systems were making
amount of blood in an adult. Robotic sur-
as if it were a traditional open prostatec-
their debut on hospital floors.
gery mitigates the problem by giving the
tomy procedure. The robot also allows
surgeon a better view through a camera.
the surgeon to scale motion, translating a
The doctor doesn’t have to feel inside the
six-inch motion by the doctor to a half-inch
abdomen, and possibly cause bleeding, to
stitch on the patient.
Already, Lev had seen urological surgeries like prostatectomies evolve from an open procedure to one that could be done laparoscopically, or with the use of a camera through a small abdominal incision. With the transition to laparoscopy, “the only thing that was very significantly different
find the prostate. Lev says it’s also possible in the future for robotic surgery to make it easier to avoid damaging vital nerves during surgery.
Switching to robotic surgery also changed the learning curve for doctors to adopt new techniques and procedures. Lev says it took 15 to 20 cases to acclimate himself to the
was the surgeon’s experience was so much
robot, but there’s always something new
more important, because physicians who
to learn about the system. For instance, in
could do the open procedure couldn’t nec-
the last six months, the way surgeons re-
essarily do the laparoscopic procedure,”
constructs hollow tissue like blood vessels,
Lev says. But the transition to robotics was,
called anastomosis,was changed with the
and still is, different.
help of a robotic surgical system.
“The minute we had access to the robot is
“Because this is a new technology, things
when we started to work on the robot,” he
are changing, instruments are changing,
says. “When you compare the new tech-
and people that are leaders in the robotics
nologies, besides trying to push new tech-
[industry], they change the techniques,” Lev
nology, they’ve always tried to push for
says. “Over time as people present their dif-
an improvement in some parameter, either
ferent techniques, you have to emulate them
patient outcome, hospital stays, decreased
in order to get better results.”
blood loss, things like that.”
But robotic surgical systems have yet to cut
Now, seven years out of residency, Lev and
costs. It costs a hospital $1 million to buy a
two other doctors at St. Louis Urological
surgical robot, and then annual upkeep can
Surgeons use the da Vinci robot for pros-
cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And
tatectomies, as well as surgeries to recon-
surgeons are reimbursed at about the same
struct the renal pelvis, a funnel-like area
rate, whether they’re using the robot or not.
that guides urine out of the kidneys into the tubes that deliver it to the bladder. This is
Dr. Ronan Lev
“Cost effectiveness is a huge issue,” Lev says. “A lot of people say it’s not very cost
his second year working with the machine.
effective because it’s very, very expensive.
“The technological issue of learning how to
But a lot of proponents would say this is a
work the robot, that’s really easy,” Lev says.
“The huge advantage of the robotic proce-
technology that’s in its infancy and it’s just
“One of the things [doctors] found was the
dure is the robot allows the laparoscopic
going to get better and better.”
ability to do the procedure was a lot easier
instrument to imitate your hand,” Lev says.
than doing a laparoscopic prostatectomy.
“It has nine degrees of freedom. It can go
It was a lot easier for physicians who do
up, down, left, right [and] turn. It can do
open prostatectomy to go straight into the
everything that your wrist can do, which in
robotic with less laparoscopic experience.”
a straight laparoscopy wouldn’t occur.”
It became quickly apparent that using a
This human-like motion can make tasks that
robot for prostate surgery reduced blood
require fine-tuned motion, such as sewing
“People are going to get better at using it, and they’re going to find more uses for it because it’s a brand new tool.”
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