Robots in healthcare: avatar Nao

Robots are no longer being used only in industry, but increasingly also in healthcare. Avatar Nao, for example, goes to school for children who are unable to attend for long periods due to illness.

Robots have been used in industry for quite some time now, although they must meet different requirements in healthcare, such as being able to interact with people and adapt to changing conditions. At the moment, robots are mainly given the job of reducing the physical and administrative workload of carers. They in no way replace nursing staff, but rather give them more time to devote to their patients.

In German-speaking countries, service robots mainly carry out tasks relating to washing, food and medication in daily hospital life. Cleaning robots and training bots are also widespread. In the USA, the main focus is currently on the construction of prosthetics. By contrast, “emotional” robots, i.e. robots that are able to respond to human emotions, are becoming increasingly common in Japan and South Korea. They are in direct contact with the person requiring care. The more advanced use of robots in these countries is attributable to both their health strategy and the provision of the funds required.

Robots can take on different tasks and roles: training bots help patients practise physical exercises and assist them with their mobility. Robotic assistants help a person by reducing or taking away their work burden. A telepresence robot accompanies a person and interacts with them socially.

Given that there is still a lack of experience in this area, it has so far not been possible to conclusively explore the pros and cons of using robots in healthcare. In turn, this means the concept meets with little acceptance and gives rise to much debate. However, some robots have been used successfully: take Avatar Kids from Avatarion Technology AG.

Helsana supports avatars

Helsana plays an important role in social integration and is committed in various ways to promoting development and innovation in healthcare. One example of our commitment is our sponsorship of Avatar Kids.​

Avatar robot in the classroom

Children who have to stay in hospital for extended periods are often suddenly pulled out of their familiar environment. They are surrounded by unfamiliar people, and their everyday life changes dramatically. Their social isolation can severely affect their happiness, which in turn has an influence on the recuperation process. Telepresence robot Nao ensures that these children remain in touch with their school and outside life during long stays in hospital. It provides a connection between the child and its familiar environment.

What can Nao do?

The avatar is equipped with lots of sensors, cameras and microphones, which allows it to move in almost every way. While Nao attends school, the child can take part in the lesson via their tablet from home or hospital and see and hear everything that is going on in the classroom. And the class can also see the absent child on Nao’s screen. There are two ways in which the patient can transfer speech to the avatar.

  • Via the microphone: the child is connected with the rest of the class directly.

  • Or via chat: the avatar reads out text that the child types.

The child controls the avatar’s movements and actions using the remote control on the tablet. Nao responds actively by raising its hand if the child knows the answer to a question. Teachers can also control the avatar and use different programs (maths, languages, sport) in the lessons. The teacher can take photos of individual exercises with the tablet and send them to the child, who can then solve them on their own tablet with a smart pen straight away. The pupil can ask the teacher questions from afar at any time and therefore receive individual assistance.

Read how Nao supported Timea during her illness here.


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