Healthcare Robots

Blog by Colin Hung

I recently returned from a two-week family vacation on the east coast of Halifax. It was an amazing trip and I actually managed to unplug for almost the entire time. I didn’t check Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or my email. Instead of catching up online at night, we watched movies.

One of our favorite movies is Disney’s Big Hero Six – the story of a young-man who loses his brother but recovers with the help of a group of science-geniuses and a robotic healthcare companion named Baymax (and along the way they save the city from certain doom).

Here is a funny clip from the movie that also doubles as a great example of what a “robot healthcare companion” could be.

Big Hero Six was released in 2014, the same year that Japan’s SoftBank introduced the world to Pepper – a humanoid robot that could interact with people in surprising new ways. Pepper was first deployed in a retail setting as a front-of-store greeter. The novelty helped to bring in would-be shoppers. Since it’s introduction, Pepper has helped people do more than spend more in-store, it has been used to help combat loneliness in Japan’s aging population. Dean Cornish noted this phenomenon in his SBS piece

Japanese couples don’t have much to talk about once their children leave home. With Pepper we feel like a child has come into our lives.

– Rieko Kawachi, 66-year-old from Japan

In 2016, IBM and Rice University introduced a customized version of Pepper called MERA – Multi-Purpose Eldercare Robot Assistant. Powered, by IBM-Watson, MERA could answer health questions posed by patients. It could also record and calculate vital signs like heart and breathing rates.

I love robots and I am constantly amazed at how they can be used beyond the manufacturing floor. Robots-as-companions to help combat loneliness and other mental health issues is a fascinating development. The recent developments in voice-recognition, optics, motors and artificial-intelligence have allowed robots to become more and more interactive.

In some ways, robots make for an ideal healthcare companion – they never sleep, they are always available and they are completely loyal to the owner (or at least they can be configured to only respond to one person’s voice). Robots also do put strain on an already stretched healthcare system.

Having said that, what does it say about us as a society if we need robots to care for elderly patients. Is this a reflection of our lack of caring…that we would rather pay money to have a machine spend time with our elders rather than spend time with them ourselves? Or it is the reverse – do robot companions actually demonstrate how much we care about patients that we would go to such extraordinary lengths to see to someone’s comfort and mental well-being?

One thing is for sure, we are just scratching the surface of the potential for robots in healthcare. Personally I believe we are still years away from robots-as-doctors, but it won’t be long until we see robot as orderlies, room cleaners and surgical assistants.

Please join us on Tuesday, August 15th at 8:30pm Eastern (for your local time click here) as we discuss the following topics:

  • T1 Do you see robot companions for the elderly more as a triumph of technology or a failure as a society?
  • T2 If a robot therapy & a medication were equally effective as a treatment, which would you choose and why?
  • T3 Where do you feel robots will have the biggest healthcare impact in the next 12 months?
  • T4 What aspect of healthcare do you believe should remain robot-free?


“Love, intimacy and companionship: a tale of robots in Japan”, Dean Cornish, SBS Dateline, 11 April 2017,, accessed 13 August 2017

“Prepare Yourselves, Robots Will Soon Replace Doctors in Healthcare”, Harold Stark, Forbes, 10 July 2017,, accessed 13 August 2017

“9 Exciting Facts About Medical Robots”, The Medical Futurist,, accessed 13 August 2017

“The Robot Will See You Now – AI and Health Care”, Wired, 20 April 2017,, accessed 13 August 2017

“Robot pets offer real comfort”, CNN, 19 October 2016,, accessed 13 August 2017

“Animal- Assisted Therapy and Loneliness in Nursing Homes: Use of Robotic versus Living Dogs”, Marian Banks et al, Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, March 2008,, accessed 13 August 2017

“The Psychosocial Effects of a Companion Robot: A Randomized Controlled Trial”, Hayley Robinson et al, Journal of American Medical Directors Association, September 2013,, accessed 13 August 2017

“Therapy Cats for Dementia Patients, Batteries Included”, Andy Newman, The New York Times, 15 December 2016,, accessed 13 August 2017

“Robo Therapy”, Kirsten Weir, American Psychological Association, June 2015,, accessed 13 August 2017

“Meet Ellie: the robot therapist treating soldiers with PTSD”, Nathan Jolly, News.Com.Au, 1 October 2016,, accessed 13 August 2017

“3 Robotic Innovations in Healthcare”, Kayla Matthews, Inc, 8 March 2017,, accessed 13 August 2017

“Grandma’s Little Robot”, Catherine Caruso, Scientific American, 22 May 2017,, accessed 13 August 2017

“Toyota unveils robot baby to tug at maternal instinct in aging Japan”, Naomi Tajitsu, Reuters, 3 October 2016,, accessed 13 August 2017

“Why Japan’s cute robots could be coming for you”, Marc Prosser, Redbull Blog, 22 March 2016,, accessed 13 August 2017


One comment

  1. This is really a nice article in which you have discussed some useful facts about robot healthcare. Thanks for posting and keep going on.

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