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Introducing CHOP's New Robotic Staff Member

09.26.19
By: Holly Benedetto

Earlier this month, patients at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) welcomed the newest member of the hospital staff: not a new doctor or nurse, but rather a two foot tall robot! The robot, called NAO (pronounced “now”), was donated by American Heritage's Kids-N-Hope Foundation. The children warmed up to his presence quickly ⁠— an important bond for the job he is to serve.

Robotic devices are nothing new in healthcare, but their numbers are still limited. Unlike the ones used for surgery, however, CHOP’s newest machine will be providing physical and emotional support services for patients and their families. The NAO robot can be programmed as an interactive assistant that provides information, entertainment, and a warm welcome to those spending time in the hospital. 

NAO’s advanced technology simulates many human senses, including sight, touch, sound, speech, and movement. His design features seven touch sensors, four directional microphones and speakers, two shape-recognizing 2D cameras, and an open-source platform for custom programming. This type of programming means that students and researchers around the world are able to create and share new abilities for the robot so his skillset can continue growing.

In the hospital, NAO provides new avenues to relate to those with specific communication needs. Patients and families who do not speak English as their primary language can still receive information via NAO's speech recognition software, which makes dialogue available in 20 different languages. NAO's easy-to-understand body language and straightforward communication has led to many successes, such as classrooms in the UK experiencing increased learning in children with autism by incorporating the robots.

Besides NAO's impressive technology, his empathetic connection to patients makes him stand out. Patients can build a relationship with NAO by chatting, playing, or dancing together. Similar to a therapy dog, NAO's presence puts children at ease and provides a comforting distraction from treatment. The hospital plans to use NAO to help children understand procedures or therapies they are about to have, while offering emotional support at the same time. This focus on improved patient experience aligns with the Kids-N-Hope Foundation's mission, as it strives to make hospital stays as pleasant as possible for children in need through interactive therapy. The organization, most well-known for their contributions towards music therapy, looks forward to NAO joining the sessions and singing along.

 “We are excited to add NAO the Robot to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s medical staff,” stated Bruce K. Foulke, Chairman of the Kids-N-Hope Foundation and President/CEO of American Heritage. “NAO is not only meant to enhance the options for the patients of the hospital, but also it provides a new perspective for children going through programs in a non-traditional and arguably less intimidating way. Kids just want to be kids, and we hope NAO creates connections with the patients and gives them motivation and excitement with them time at the hospital.”

 Inclusion of robots in healthcare is not to eliminate human roles, but rather to provide additional forms of support for all needs. Currently over 13,000 robots are in use worldwide, and as robotic assistants continue to have a place in our lives, you may likely encounter one soon.

To learn more about NAO, see SoftBank Robotics' website and Instagram!