Thursday, November 20, 2014

"Big Hero 6": Predicting the Future of Robots as Healthcare Professionals

Photo Credit: Disney
Just a few weeks ago, Disney released their newest movie, "Big Hero 6." Just as you would expect from a Disney movie, it is full of laughter, action, and a heart-warming plot, but instead of the typical princess movie, it is about a robotics prodigy, Hiro, and his best friend Baymax, a robot designed to help people.  As the plot thickens, Hiro, Baymax, and friends band together to become a group of high-tech superheroes. 

To make the personal health care robot as accurate as possible, creators of "Big Hero 6" went straight to the experts themselves to do research, including a professor at the Robotics Institute and Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, Chris Atkeson. The concept of a 'soft' robot came from Atkeson and his colleagues. Disney was intrigued by this type of robot because it is one that most people have never seen before in a movie. It is distinct from the rigid transformer-looking robots, and the soft edges give Baymax more of a warm, caring appearance. 

In an recent interview with Atkeson, he stated that he doesn't think this sort of technology (personal health care robots) is too far off. "I think it's very soon. We haven't gone for a complete system. But we have gone for parts of it. The design that we could do very soon, like a carbon fiber skeleton and pneumatic actuators internally, is possible. It's not clear, though, that making a big balloon and putting stuff inside of it is the right way to go. Do you know what water wings are? They're like a sleeve. That's probably a much better way to do the inflatable part –essentially putting sleeves on all the limbs and torsos. Space suits are already inflatable robots, so the armored Baymax exists. The space suits rely on the human inside to actually guide it. They have to deal with micrometeorite damage and things like that, so these are serious, robust systems." 

Here is a short clip of the inflatable arm that inspired the design of Baymax.

We are already seeing artificial intelligence/robots become more accepted in the medical field. For example, earlier this year, industry analysts talked about the day if/when computers will replace doctor. They found that the majority of people actually preferred interacting with the artificial intelligence compared to a human doctor. Similarly, kiosks are making their way to more and more doctor's offices; used as a Virtual nurse for patients to get quick answers to non-emergency questions. 

Another example is a company in the medical industry using Virtual Customer Assistants(VCAs) to provide their partners with a quick and easy way to answer questions about products and solutions. View the slideshare below to learn more about how they offered their VCA to their Partners.


We've posed this question at the beginning of the year, but it would be interesting to see how opinions might have changed in the span of a year. Where do you think the future of medicine and technology will take us? Will robots replace nurses and doctors? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.