Soothing The Savage Beast - The Role Of Comforting Robot Nurses

Robotic nurses are coming soon to a hospital near you, but how we will as humankind react to these marvels of medical technology and respond to the touch of our robotic responders?

That's the question that researcher's at the Georgia Institute of Technology were looking to answer so they set up an experiment to do just that. It started with human "patients" in a bed and a robot named Cody who was coming to help them. Cody had two purposes - either he would be there to clean a patient's arm or he would be touching it in order to comfort them. In both cases, the action he performed was exactly the same but his "intentions" were different, and researchers wanted to see if that made a difference in how people reacted to his metallic ministrations.

Guess what? It did.

If patients believed that Cody was simply there to clean their wound, they had little problem with the robot's presence. If, however, they believed that he was trying to give them comfort, they were discomfited by the idea. While one might be tempted to conclude that this is simply as a result of our innate fear of our potential robot overlords, the results were mimicked in a study using human nurses; we simply prefer our contact in a medical setting to be for a specific purpose rather than general comfort.

Patients also responded poorly if the robot spoke to them before touching their arm, though researchers aren't entirely sure why. They speculate that it may have been because the speech was unexpected, but it gave rise to the same kind of negative results as if the robot offered comfort.

While technological marvels aren't yet wandering the halls of your local hospital, inventions like the RIBA Robotic Nurse pictured above and extremely lifelike android nurses are currently being tested by several companies.

In short - get used to it, because automatic assistants are coming, and they're going to touch you. Repeatedly.

Source: Georgia Tech

Photo Credit: RIKEN-TRI