At the Humanoids 2010 conference held in Nashville this week a paper was presented on robotic help in ERs (emergency rooms) by author Mitch Wilkes, titled,"Heterogeneous Artificial Agents for Triage Nurse Assistance". Wilkes is the associate director of the Center for Intelligent Systems and associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Vanderbilt University.
The paper describes an ER that would feature electronic kiosks (like those at the airport) at the registration desk and smart chairs. A mobile robot or two might monitor patients in the waiting room.
Specialists in emergency medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and computer engineers at the university recently teamed up to develop the TriageBot, a robotic system designed to handle the 60 percent of patients who show up at emergency rooms with non-life threatening problems.
Here's how the system could work: registration clerks direct patients to robotic assistants that take patients through the registration process with touch-screens and voice prompts. If patients report potentially life-threatening information--chest pains, for example--the robotic assistants will immediately notify staff. Else, the patients would be given a wait time and sent to the waiting room.
Vanderbilt researchers imagine that "triage nurse assistant robots" built into waiting room chairs measure blood pressure, pulse rate, blood oxygen saturation, respiration rate, height and weight. Mobile robot assistants will periodically check that patients in the waiting room are still conscious. A supervisor robot will act as the central manager. This robot would monitor the waiting room and calculate possible diagnoses and possibly suggest early testing or other non-physician care. It would link to hospital databases and communicate with the human ER staff.
The TriageBot is still at least five years away from being installed in your local emergency room.
Most of the work in robotics has concentrated on deliberative decision-making – collecting large amounts of data and then taking hours to determine optimal courses of action, he noted. Humans, by contrast, can make a number of decisions in a matter of seconds if needed. "If cognitive robots are to operate successfully in a human environment, they must be able to choose actions with a similar rapidity, particularly in a chaotic environment like the emergency room," said Kazuhiko Kawamura, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, who is directing the project.
Undergraduate engineering students at Vanderbilt have already started building a registration bot that features a touch-screen, camera, blood pressure cuff, electronic weight scale and a fingertip pulse oximeter that keeps track of pulse rate and blood oxygen levels.