An innovation for hospitals' tiniest patients: Robotic teddy bears?

Researchers from Boston Children's Hospital and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge have collaborated to bring a social robot prototype into the hospital to see if it can have therapeutic value for children who have to stay in the hospital for long periods, according to the New York Times.

"We think a lot about heart rate, blood pressure and how much oxygen is in the blood, but we don't have a great monitor for how the child is feeling right now," Pete Weinstock, MD, PhD, director of the Simulator Program at Boston Children's Hospital told the New York Times. "What we do know is that children who are happier, who feel better, it can have a big effect on healing."

Dr. Weinstock and Cynthia Breazeal, ScD, the director of the personal robots group at MIT's media lab, developed Huggable, a high-tech puppet that can talk and play with patients with a remote operator. To test its effects, one-third of the 90 children participating in the study at Boston Children's play with Huggable, one-third interact with an image of it on a tablet and the last third are given a regular teddy bear to play with.

All of the children wear a bracelet that measures physiological changes and are recorded on video, according to the report. As it provides comfort and entertainment for young patients, it could capture data and information at the same time, allowing the hospital staff to improve the continuity of care.

Boston Children's said it has invested $500,000 in social robotics research, including the Huggable experiment. The hospital is now beginning to collect and analyze the data in collaboration with researchers from Northeastern University, also in Boston.

Dr. Breazeal told the New York Times she wants to work toward making Huggable capable of operating autonomously, without a remote controller.

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