Diligent Robotics social intelligence-endowed robot Moxi made its debut today in pilot programs at hospitals in Texas. Moxi has a face, head, and arm and gets around on four wheels. The robot can use its hand to do things like grab and store medical supplies and deliver them to nurses or doctors.
Trials begin this week at a number of hospitals, including Texas Health Dallas, University of Texas Medical Branch, and Houston Methodist Hospital. By reducing trips to supply rooms, Diligent believes Moxi can fight fatigue in hospital settings and reduce staff turnover.
“As a friendly, sensitive, and intuitive robot, Moxi not only alleviates clinical staff of routine tasks but does so in a non-threatening and supportive way that encourages positive relationships between humans and robots, further enhancing clinical staffs’ ability to and interest in leveraging AI in the health care industry,” CEO Dr. Andrea Thomaz said in a blog post today.
Thomaz is former director of the Georgia Tech Socially Intelligent Machines Lab and prior to that led the experimental RUBI project to teach Finnish children with a robot. Thomaz is also known for training robots like Curi and Simon. Thomaz is currently a member of the faculty in the robotics department at the University of Texas, Austin.
When addressed by a nurse, Moxi moves the gaze of its LED eyes and head movement in that person’s direction, and it can even display heart emoji eyes or rainbow eyes when it wants to celebrate.
A combination of Velodyne lidar and cameras in the head and base of the robot are used to guide its movement and help it avoid hitting people.
Moxi says “Hello there” to people it passes in the hall, but it shouldn’t be confused with a conversational bot. Moxi doesn’t play whale sounds or answer random questions like Alexa and Google Assistant do. In fact, Moxi doesn’t do much talking at all when it wants to signal it has entered a room or is changing direction.
“There’s lots of more beeps and whistles that are used for particular context than natural language, and that’s really to communicate that right now, Moxi’s not a chatbot,” Thomaz told VentureBeat in a phone interview.
In trials at hospitals in Texas, Diligent is experimenting with both touchscreen and voice input options for nurses.
“Part of what we’re learning in our pilot deployments over the next several months is how exactly a support task robot like Moxi would best fit into an existing workflow, because every hospital you go to, nurses have a particular way that they do things,” she said.
Moxi is an upgrade from Diligent’s first robot, a prototype named Poli whose initial trials were paid for with funding from the National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research program.
Moxi was developed thanks to a $2.1 million funding round in January led by True Ventures. In the redesign, Diligent’s hospital robot was made smaller, its arm was repositioned, and it was given a face.
“There’s this kind of immediate connection that people have with something that has a face, with eyes, and that is the kind of connection that I envision people having with robot teammates. You want this to be a trusted member of the team, so that was our main reason for going more explicitly social,” Thomaz said.
Diligent Robotics was created in 2016 by Thomaz and cofounder Vivian Chu.
Beyond robots that make deliveries in hospital — like Moxi and those from Savioke — robots are entering hospitals in a variety of ways, like helping comfort kids with cancer, training medical professionals, and assisting in surgeries.