This Robot Makes Doctor Visits Less Terrifying for Kids

Fear of needles? A friendly robot can help you with that

2 min read
This Robot Makes Doctor Visits Less Terrifying for Kids

Nobody (almost nobody) likes getting stabbed with needles, and kids seem to especially hate it. Getting vaccinated is an unpleasant process for everyone concerned, including the kids, their anxious parents, and nurses and physicians who are just trying to do their job. There are ways to coach all parties involved to be better at dealing with scary and painful procedures, and that’s where robots might help. Robots, with the proper programming, have proven (like, peer-reviewed proven) that they can be very effective pain coaches.

RxRobots, a spin-out of the University of Calgary, is using Nao robots (from Aldebaran Robotics, which also makes the Pepper humanoid) to help coach kids through simple medical procedures that are likely to cause them pain and distress, like anything that involves needles. It’s not just that kids don’t like getting vaccinated; some of them scream, puke, or attempt to flee and have to be restrained. According to RxRobots, studies have shown that kids who have a traumatic experience like this will be less likely to seek out medical care when they get older.

Here’s RxRobots’ Nao, which they named MEDi, in action:

Seems simple enough, but MEDi’s interactions are the result of some serious cognitive-behavioral research, and it also helps that most kids are like, “Hey, cool, a robot!”

A 2013 study on a group of 57 kids with chronic medical conditions and a moderate to severe fear of needles found that MEDi could reduce pain and distress by up to 50 percent, and “children recovered more quickly, smiling and relaxing almost immediately after the needle was removed, unlike children in the control group, who remained upset and often would not speak with their parents or nurses afterward.”

In addition to vaccinations, MEDi is being used to coach kids through getting blood drawn, which tends to be more distressing than a vaccination. And there are a lot more possibilities here, since Nao is so easy to program: MRIs, chemotherapy, rehab, even the dentist’s office could benefit from friendly, helpful, and distracting little robots. It's not just for kids, either: personally, I’d feel a lot better getting poked and prodded if I had my own robotic coach to help me through it.

[ RxRobots ]

The Conversation (0)

How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page
Blue

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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