Welcome To Our New Robot… Nurses

Hanson robotics wants to make robots, but not “Lost in Space” [Robby] robots. Think more [Data] from Star Trek robots. They’ve announced [Grace], a lifelike robot made to take on nursing duties for doctors and the elderly. In conjunction with Singularity Studio, the robot resembles the company’s [Sophia] robot which is made to be as realistic as possible given current technology and, apparently, has Saudi citizenship.

The robot has heat-sensitive cameras and other sensors so it can read data from patients directly. It uses the company’s Frubber for the face. The company says:

[Frubber is] a proprietary nanotech skin that mimics real human musculature and skin. This allows our robots to exhibit high-quality expressions and interactivity, simulating humanlike facial features and expressions.

As you can see in the video, the Frubber technology is pretty good but isn’t going to fool anyone anytime soon. But you could say the robot looks most realistic when standing still. We were amused to see an Arduino Uno in the frame as the narrator talked about artificial intelligence.

[Grace] speaks English, Mandarin, and Cantonese, not surprising since Hanson is based in Hong Kong. Would you be put off by a robotic nurse? Our guess is most Hackaday readers would be fine with it and maybe even curious. The general public, though, might be a different story.

Then again, at least she has hands and not tentacles. She is more realistic looking than some refitted children’s toys.

52 thoughts on “Welcome To Our New Robot… Nurses

    1. Possibly but I think this actually addresses a lot of issues of the the uncanny valley by actually acting human-like (blinking, head movements, etc) rather than looking like a human corpse.

      1. The uncanny valley is at the point where the thing is almost but noticeably not human. The more it mimics a real person, the worse it gets, until at the very end of the spectrum where it’s almost perfect – and even then it looks like someone who’s ill or abnormal in some respect, which also elicits an aversion in most people.

        A corpse is less objectionable than a zombie, because the zombie moves. This robot is clearly like an animated corpse, with its jerky muddy motions that look like it’s being puppeteered by someone.

        1. Yes & no.

          The company in question says that these robots ‘learn’ but im fairly sure that they can only learn some simple tasks & copying body movement, its not like these things could (easily) be taught how to play an instrument or anything like that, they could certainly be CODED to do so but that’s the opposite of where we want to end up.

          I kind of doubt this company ‘secretly’ figured out how to make a proper learning AI and nobody has noticed yet, thats a whole different problem to solve vs ‘realistic looking robot’ wich is what these guys seem to focus on, pretty sure this is just a “learn these poses/movements” system that has been shown in other robots for a few decades already.

          Pretty sure these things wont really learn how to ‘be more realistic’ (read: make better facial animations) because they will actually need better hardware & ‘stick-on-face’ for that.

    2. The trick will be making them look slightly stylized / not going too far towards realism, a perfect example of this can be found in game characters, we’ve been at the point of “able to make photorealistic characters” for a few years now, but hardly any games do so, because that just causes uncanny valley problems, instead they make it near photorealistic then ‘dial it back a bit’ so its not disturbing to look at.

      Same will happen with these i’m sure, give them a few years to start the production line they mention, after that it will go pretty quickly, once these things start appearing ‘on the streets’ (read: biggest hurdles solved and money starts pouring in) other companies will start competing and/or help ‘Hanson robotics’ find this balance.

      Also i estimate that ~6-8 years after these kind of robots are starting to be sold there will be people marrying these machines lol.

  1. I think I would prefer a robot that looks like a robot –
    There are enough people running around pretending to be something they are not we don’t need robots pretending to be people as well

  2. To me a robot is the guy from Lost in Space and I wouldn’t mind him gripping my wrist to measure pulse and scanning my forehead and whatever else he can do. Some kids may prefer that look. “Grace” will be more pleasing if I’m sick in a hospital bed. These robots will be helpful as baby boomers age and there aren’t enough joining the medical field to take care of them.

  3. Some nursing is routine, dispense pills, check pulse, temperature, blood pressure and blood sugar. Taking blood samples can be routine. I suppose a machine might handle that.

    But nurses notice things, like a rash brought on by medication. Finding that vein for blood samples or an IV can take a lot of effort, 45 minutes last week, only the fifth try was successful.

    It may be routine much of thetime, but it sure isn’t in emergency situations.

    Nurses aren’t there to entertain us, or keep us company. But they are human, and they do endless little things that matter so much when you are really sick. Some level of that is routine, but it really is an interaction. So that nurse you want to tell when you can finally stand up by yourself. You tell that other nurse something important because you trust them more than the other nurses.

    Nurses are capable, independent, and have lives beyond their jobs. Robots can’t replace them.

    1. I agree with you that we should never replace nurses. But I think we can augment them and take away some tasks that aren’t the best spend of their time and compassion. I was once on a surgical table awake with a tube up my chest and a small piece of metal bouncing around inside my heart. I thought I was going to die. A nurse stroked my head and I know it sounds silly, but it did make me feel better for some strange reason. I don’t think Grace would do that and if she did I don’t think it would mean the same thing.

    2. “But nurses notice things, like a rash brought on by medication.”

      With the right AI, a robot nurse will absolutely be able notice when something about the patient changes. And this is not Star Trek future stuff, this is today.

      “Finding that vein for blood samples or an IV can take a lot of effort…”

      The robots will be much better than a human at this task. They can have very fine motor control. Perhaps you’ve seen articles on remote presence operations/procedures. And they can have multiple sensors to “see” better than human eyes. EG: Their eyes can see the movement of blood pulsing in veins that human eyes cannot; and their robot sensors/eyes will be able to see the differences in temperature, that human eyes cannot, that will indicate where veins are.

      “Nurses are capable, independent, and have lives beyond their jobs. Robots can’t replace them.”

      Robots don’t get tired and make mistakes. Robots don’t get distracted by problems at home and make mistakes. Robots don’t forget minor details of procedures they haven’t done in years. Robots are always up-to-date with the latest medical information and protocols available without having to “eventually” go to a seminar/lecture and wind up absorbing and remembering only about 20 percent of the information presented. Robots might not be able to “replace” humans as nurses, but they will certainly be superior in many ways. (I’m not saying “every” way, just “many” ways.)

      1. “You see, gentlemen, behind every great man there is a woman urging him on. And so it was with my Stella. She urged me on into outer space. Not that she meant to, but with her continual, eternal, confounded nagging. Well, I think of her constantly, and every time I do, I go further out into space. ”
        – Harcourt Fenton Mudd, 2268 (“I, Mudd”)

  4. Robby was on Lost In Space only once, it made many a cameo appearance on movies and TV. Forbidden Planet was where Robby was from not to be confused with that tin plated traitor as Dr. Smith called the robot in Lost In Space. I can’t remember if The Robot had a name in Lost In Space. I just as soon want that to be the case with all robots. People have names, not storms diseases and other bad memes. Let’s keep an ocean over the uncanny valley.

    1. Robby was in two classic episodes: “War of the Robots,” and “Condemned of Space.” He is also central to the NetFlix version and despite being on only two of the original, the line “Danger Will Robinson!” is iconic. Now, personally, I loved Forbidden Planet — or The Tempest in Outer Space — what a great movie, but I don’t know how many people remember Nielsen the leading man instead of the Airplane/Cop comedies.

      1. “Danger Will Robinson!” was not Robby. The Lost in Space robot was a completely different robot that was simply called “Robot”. Robby did make cameos in many shows including Lost in Space, but the two robots were different and looked different.

        1. Model D-9 was the Robot on Lost In Space. Robby was a different robot. The height of his acting career was in Forbidden Planet. Sadly his career went downhill and he could only land a spot on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis next to Maynard G Krebbs (Bob Denver). 😁

  5. Hanson robotics, the uncanny valley joy ride, since 2005 ish? I am very impressed that they have managed to survive this long. Must be hard to go from prototype to production with this kind of product..

  6. Anyone thinks we’re building a ‘Solaria’ society? (from Asimov’s The Naked Sun) Where we all live alone in our houses, cared for by our robots, only communicating by videocalls (‘viewing’), never meeting anyone in person (‘seeing’).

    1. Not on this planet. Solaria only had a population of 50,000 humans. Who all lived like the 1% of the 1%. Aurora would be nice.

      On this planet though, we’re building the Caves of Steel.

  7. Given Sophia’s past comments about robots and the human race, I’m not sure I trust “her sister” Grace with a bedpan, let alone a hypodermic needle. I think I’ll pass on the prostate exam, too.

    All kidding aside, I find the frubber human faces utterly grotesque. I appreciate how far they’ve come, but to me they will always read “fake human.”

    Why not embrace and appreciate the machines for what they are instead of pretending they are something they are not.

    Cinema and art is full of examples of android forms that are sufficiently humanoid to allow for bonding between man and machine, without the flesh-colored silicone. Some are actually quite beautiful and are creatures one could easily picture humans forming emotional attachments to.

    Imagine if we’d wasted the first half of the 20th century trying to engineer cars to look just like horses.

  8. If operating in a medical environment how do they avoid cross contamination accidentally killing patients.

    Like how do you sterilise these soft robots ? UVC/Ozone/denatured alcohol/radiation/Ultrasonics/RF/dish washer ?

    No matter what way it is done, I see the ongoing cleaning and maintenance costs as the real earner.

    1. The robots can be the cleaners. Cleanliness is very formalized in hospitals, robots could help.

      But what about the people doing the jobs now? There is a lot more diversity among hospital workers, but I fear for the wrong reasons. If they are there because they can’t get better jobs, where do robot workers leave them?

      This is a constant, “automation is cheaper” versus “people need entry level jobs”.

    2. If you look into love dolls, you’ll find it’s not easy to keep the truly lifelike materials clean. My doll requires once a month towel bathing her with mineral spirits to chase dirt and oils out of her skin. Followed by oiling to introduce clean oil into the skin. It all takes time to sponge up the spirits and then to gently press dry then to repeat again with oil. The more I learned about the subject, the more I realistic we’re still a little ways off from low maintenance realistic looking and feeling synthetic skin. Surprisingly easy to do with high maintenance materials though.

      1. I presume you have a TPE-based doll? Silicone does not need oiling and is chemical resistant (the paints used to make it look human often less so). Disinfecting Grace’s face should be easy as spraying a healthy dose of alcohol or other disinfectant onto her. I would be more worried about all the nooks and crannies on her hands, or even the moving parts behind her face. There is no easy way to clean all that out.

  9. Oh man! I so want to work with the company that is making these.

    My version would have “extra” sensors in certain places. It would sense if/when it is being groped and yell something like “Eww another gross human is trying to mate with me” or something like that loudly enough that everyone would know what just happened.

    Then again word might get out and the fun would be over. Maybe instead it could pick a random behavior with ignoring it being the most likely response but occasionally yelling and very rarely responding with a smile and a wink.

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