Meet George Jetson?
The federal government just gave nearly $900,000 to the University of Louisville to develop robot nurses, that could be coming soon to a hospital near you.
We’re not talking about large pieces of stationary machinery that can just, like, hold things. The university purports it will develop actual robotic nurses that can self-navigate hospitals on their own, doing mundane everyday tasks currently carried out by human RNs.
According to the National Science Foundation's website, here’s what the grant description had to say about the project:
The project led by The University of Kentucky at Louisville in collaboration with the University of Texas at Arlington will focus on the creation of new design tools that can configure the hardware and software of adaptive robotic nursing assistants (ARNA). ARNA will be specifically designed to assist nurses in healthcare facilities with simple tasks such as, lift assistance, delivery of everyday lightweight objects (medicine, medical wearable equipment), and some physical assistance with movement of heavier objects, such as furniture, gurneys, and the patients themselves.
The grant request alleges claims, “Adaptive Robotic Nurse Assistants will navigate cluttered hospitals, while equipped with multi-modal skin sensors that can anticipate nurse intent, automate mundane low-level tasks, but keep nurses in the decision loop. Modular and strong hardware will be deployed in reconfigurable platforms specially designed for nurse physical assistance.”
“The sitter robot will take vital sign measurements, evaluate risk from patient movement and pose, and provide continuous observation of patients and feedback to and from nurses. The walker robot will assist nurses and patients by providing partial balance support, navigating cluttered environments, and assisting with medical equipment transportation,” the university claims.
Rather than “pre-programming” the robots, developers say they will equip the robot with “learning algorithms will be used so that robots adapt to human preferences.”
Researchers say they think developing robot nurse assistants will help pave the way to other types of assistance robots, including “in-home service and assistive robots, robots for assistance in public venues, and co-Robot manufacturing where humans are in close proximity to robot workers.”
Apparently, the federal government thinks the project is feasible enough to fork over $862,232 in taxpayer dollars to help fund it. The grant description explains the project will end around July of 2018.
What’s perhaps just as interesting as a fleet of mechanized Clara Bartons is that this isn’t the first time the government has handed over some serious cash for robot nurses. Back in August of 2015, the NSF gave $1 million to the University of Texas to build robot nurses, publishing a grant description identical to the one from the University of Louisville. That project was supposed to run through July of 2016. (And so far, we haven't seen any robot nurses.)
The Free Beacon noted that in 2012, a similar award was given to the same researcher at the University of Texas to develop robots with human-like skin. -- which we also haven't seen.
Dan Popa, an associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington, is leading the project. Popa previously received more than $1.3 million from the National Science Foundation to attempt to give robots sensitive, human-like skin.
“We really believe this technology will make an impact and the application of robots in everybody’s lives in the future,” Popa said after being awarded the grant in 2012. “And I really think a few years down the road you will be going to the store, buying your favorite robot, and it will be in part thanks to the technology we’re developing today.”
Popa describes robots that would look similar to humans that would wear clothes.
I'm no robot expert. But you'd think that by this point, with millions in taxpayer-funded grants going toward robot research, we'd have gotten something more impressive than an automated vacuum. Especially when Japan already has a robot with the face of a bear.