VISITS FROM A FRIENDLY ROBOT encourage a positive out look and improves medical interactions for children who are hospitalized, a new study from UCLA finds. Robin is a social-companion robot with big WALL-E eyes and a sleek plastic body. It stands about four feet tall and can move, talk and play with others while being remotely controlled by a child-life specialist. It utilizes emotional-learning technology — recognizing a child's emotions by interpreting his or her facial expressions and building responsive dialogue by replicating patterns formed from previous experiences — to engage realistically with children.
Specialists from UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital’s Chase Child Life Program conducted hour-long video visits with young patients using Robin from October 2020 to April 2021 and compared it to interactions using a standard computer tablet.
At the conclusion of the study period, children and their parents were interviewed about their experiences, and child life specialists provided feedback in a focus group. Researchers then used a transcript of the discussion to identify recurrent and salient themes. Ninety percent of parents who had a visit with Robin indicated they were “extremely likely” to request another visit, compared to 60% of parents whose children interacted with the tablet.
Children experienced a 29% increase in positive affect — described as the tendency to experience the world in a positive way, including emotions, interactions with others and with life’s challenges — after a visit with Robin and a 33% decrease in negative affect. Children who had a tablet visit experienced a 43% decrease in positive affect and a 33% decrease in negative affect.
“Our team has demonstrated that a social - companion robot can go beyond video chats on a tablet to give us a more imaginative and profound way to make the hospital less stressful,” says pediatric surgeon Justin Wagner, MD (RES ’17).
— Evelyn Tokuyama
“A Visit from a Social Robot Improves Hospitalized Children’s Outlook,” Reports and Proceedings, UCLA Health Sciences, October 8, 2021