A nearly 4-foot-tall robot named Robin is set to begin zipping around the hallways of UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital soon to charm and delight young patients.
The robot — which has large eyes like the movie robot WALL-E and a sleek plastic body — has interacted with one patient, and officials hope to increase the number of patients as employees become more familiar with the technology, according to the hospital.
The robot will “play” primarily with children between the ages of 5 and 14 as part of an effort to ease patients’ anxiety and increase joy.
Robin will be remote-controlled by Child Life specialists during a yearlong training period, but will undertake adaptive learning to be able to communicate autonomously in the future, according to the hospital.
Specialists working with the 55-pound robot will provide Robin’s voice and control the robot’s actions as it “learns” how to respond to the needs of children and their families, according to the hospital.
The technology enables the robot to build what is called associative memory that recognizes a child’s emotions by interpreting his or her facial expressions and builds responsive dialogue by replicating patterns formed through earlier experiences, according to the hospital.
Hospital officials said the technology is even more essential as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, in which physical isolation has become even more important for sick children, especially those whose immune systems are compromised.
“The ability to provide our pediatric patients with this type of social companionship is very compelling, particularly during this pandemic,” said Dr. Shant Shekherdimian, a pediatric surgeon and co-leader of the Robin project.
“We also knew that by bringing Robin to UCLA, our team of clinicians and researchers would work tirelessly to improve this technology and make it an even more powerful tool.”
The artificial intelligence system was developed by Expper Technologies, a Silicon Valley-supported startup with which UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital is collaborating to refine the technology.
Officials plan to study whether the technology works in the health care setting and with the hospital’s patients.