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Robot Nurses Seem Unavoidable

IWARD Nurse bots, also known as robot nurses, seem an inevitable part of our future. The European Union is funding scientist to develop mechanical helpers for hospitals.

The IWARD project imagines a future in which "intelligent robot swarms" will work together for the most basic nursing tasks of attendance, recognition, cleaning and delivery of services. The "flexible self-organizing modular swarm robotic systems" will be taking care of you in your declining years.

I can't say I'm really thrilled about this development. I don't know if you've ever been in an uncomfortable situation in a hospital, but I can tell you that having a warmly human, caring nurse hold your hand or take your arm is preferable to a robotic swarm, no matter how efficient they might become in the future.

IWARD project leaders, however, have the optimism of engineers everywhere. Project leader Thomas Schlegel, from the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, remarked:

"The idea is not only to have mobile robots but also a full system of integrated information terminals and guide lights, so the hospital is full of interaction and intelligence.

"Operating as a completely decentralised network means that the robots can co-ordinate things between themselves, such as deciding which one would be best-equipped to deal with a spillage or to transport medicine."

If you'd like to take a look at how the robot nurse is presently implemented (this is not part of the IWARD project), take a look at "Sister Mary," a telepresence robot currently being tested at St. Mary's hospital in Paddington, London, in the UK.


(Sister Mary robot nurse)

The 5' 3" 215 pound robot has a camera and tilting screen; it is controlled remotely by a physician, whose face appears on the screen.

Science fiction writers have been thinking about robot nurses for a long time. Consider the psychophonic nurse from a 1928 short story by David Keller:

"I had her made by the Eastinghouse Electric Company. You see, she's just a machine nurse, but as she doesn't eat anything, is on duty twenty-four hours a day, and draws no salary, she's cheap at the price I paid."

"...let me show you how she works. She's made of a combination of springs, levers, acoustic instruments, and by means of tubes such as are used in the radio, she's very sensitive to sounds.
(Read more about the 1928 psychophonic nurse)

Look further into the future of health care: Read more about IWARD nurse bots at 'Nurse bots' to be developed by 2010 via gameshout.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 1/23/2007)

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