UofG’s three-year project on social robot development to reduce children’s medical discomfort

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Clara Punsita Ritthikarn

This social robot will be programmed to examine the child’s discomfort and adapt its behaviours to distract the patient from clinical procedure.

A three-year project that uses AI-enhanced social robots led by the University of Glasgow is aiming to improve children’s healthcare experiences. 

Dr Mary Ellen Foster from the University of Glasgow’s School of Computing Science and Dr Samina Ali from the University of Alberta began the project on 1 February 2020 to enhance the humanoid robot or the existing off-the-shelf system called Nao. 

This social robot will be programmed to examine the child’s discomfort and adapt its behaviours to distract the patient from clinical procedure. For example, the robot will talk, sing, or dance when a child has their blood taken in emergency settings. 

Dr. Foster said: “We know that children experience pain and distress in clinical settings daily, and that distraction can be an effective strategy to reduce negative consequences, both at the time of the procedure and in the long term.”

At the end of the project, the effectiveness of the robot will be evaluated through a clinical trial in Canadian hospitals. 

This project is one of the UK’s 10 responsible artificial intelligence initiatives in collaboration with Canada to receive shared £8.2m funding, provided by the UK Research and Innovation Fund for International Collaboration and three Canadian federal research agencies. 

“We’re pleased and proud to have won the support of funders on both sides of the Atlantic, and I’m very much looking forward to working with my collaborators in the UK and in Canada to explore how AI can help children in a clinical setting,” Dr. Foster said. 

The ESRC-funded international collaborative project will promote interdisciplinary and international partnerships in responsible AI research as well as infrastructure and training for researchers in both countries.  

Economic and Social Research Council’s Executive Chair, professor Jennifer Rubin, said: “Collaborating with Canadian funding agencies CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC) and other UKRI research councils (AHRC, EPSRC and MRC) on these projects using an interdisciplinary approach will contribute to the inclusive, responsible and impactful development of AI technologies, and address important economic, societal, health and global challenges.”

Recent work has revealed that there is not enough interdisciplinary collaboration in AI research, and that building bridges between the mathematical and computational sciences and other disciplines will enrich the field.”

The University is now looking for an enthusiastic researcher with expert knowledge in multimodal analysis of human behaviour to join the three-year project. Academic researchers interested in contributing to this mission can register online on the official website. Applications close on 25 March 2020.


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