Newest Hospital Hire: Humanoid Robot

June 2016 lifezette; She is helpful, unassuming, taught to be respectful — and she speaks 19 languages. Sound like someone you’d be willing to hire?

Pepper, the newest member on staff at a Belgian hospital, is already making an impact. She is a humanoid robot.

Pepper joined the medical team as a receptionist at Ostend Hospital AZ Damiaan, Reuters reported, as a way to improve “social care” and health care. She introduces visitors to the hospital, provides information they may need, and guides visitors and patients to the correct floors and rooms.

Her creator, the Belgian company Zora Bots, said she will also be able to guide slower patients down the hallway, as she walks at just 1.8 mph. Fully charged, Pepper can work for up to 20 hours on her own.

“The robot itself is a meter 20 [centimeters] high [about 4 feet], so it is not like Arnold Schwarzenegger with a leather jacket and an ‘I will be back’ robot,” said Zora Bots’ co-chief executive, Fabrice Goffin. “It is a quite nice robot and the reactions are positive for the moment.”

Pepper has stayed mainly on the hospital’s maternity wing so far. Bieke Vandeputte, the mom of a newborn baby, was amazed.

“It is another way of making contact,” she said. “The baby was really sure. He did not mind putting his hands on it. It did not frighten him, so I think it will be important, especially for children.”

Others are far from sure robots are the way to go. They note correctly that there is power in actual human touch and contact.

“Skin hunger” is the name of a new concept in our digital and disconnected world, Dr. Allen Weiss, president and CEO of NCH Healthcare System, wrote in a piece for

“Our society has grown away from physical intimacy, which is important for good mental and physical health. The laying on of the hands is the physical act of helping the ill and infirm. Touch is therapeutic, and for centuries was as effective as most every other therapy,” Weiss stated.

 While that may be true, a growing number of health care providers apparently believe robots can provide valuable services and better streamline procedures — they are making an investment in them.

The makers of Pepper have another robot that hundreds of health care facilities around the world have already adopted, according to Zora is smaller and slower than Pepper and used mainly in physical therapy classes.

Other, less human-like robots are also finding their place. A study recently in the American Journal of Infection Control revealed a 46 percent decrease in surgical-site infections after a Massachusetts hospital used disinfecting robots in its operating rooms.

Hospitals overall could look very different in the near future. The University of California San Francisco Medical Center at Mission Bay has a fleet of robots called Tugs that have been roaming the hallways since February 2015. The robots travel, on average, about 12 miles a day delivering linens, drugs, and meals and taking out the trash. Tugs operate through the hospital’s wi-fi system and navigate the hallways and elevators through lasers and infrared and ultrasonic sensors. If that sounds intimidating to you as a patient, prepare yourself — Tug and Pepper may soon be in good company.

“Beds will be able to move autonomously transporting patients from the emergency room to the operating theatre, via X-ray if needed,” according to a piece in The Conversation. “Many decisions on treatment will be made with the assistance of, or by, intelligent machines. Even your medical information, including medications will be read from a chip under your skin or in your phone. No more waiting for medical records or chasing information when an unconscious patient presents to the emergency room.”

For now, there is time to adjust — and question — all of this and see how it goes. But it may not be long before Pepper is the one guiding you through the answers. For now, cost appears to be a factor. At 30,000 euros (just over $34,000), Pepper comes at a high price — but if she can take on some valuable tasks and patients accept her, she may be an expense hospitals ultimately see as worth it.


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