Developing Robots for the Hospital Emergency Room

Researchers develop basic technology to create robots that can perform effectively in the chaotic ER.

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The object of the research is both to determine the exact functions that the robot assistants will perform and how they will look. “The exact form that the robot assistants will take will depend on how patients respond,” said Kazuhiko Kawamura, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, who is directing the project. “The design will be critical because patients need to have confidence in these devices.”

The emergency room application is a perfect way to test a special cognitive architecture that the Vanderbilt engineers have developed for robots that is based on the working memory in the brain. “Our architecture is designed to allow robots to integrate quick decision-making with the more common deliberate decision-making process in flexible ways,” Kawamura said.

Most of the work in robotics has concentrated on deliberative decision-making – collecting large amounts of data and then taking hours to determine optimal courses of action, he noted. Humans, by contrast, can make a number of decisions in a matter of seconds if needed. “If cognitive robots are to operate successfully in a human environment, they must be able to choose actions with a similar rapidity, particularly in a chaotic environment like the emergency room,” Kawamura said.

A group of undergraduate engineering students under the supervision of graduate student Erdem Erdemir has begun designing and building a prototype registration robot assistant for their senior design project. Their design includes a touch-screen display, a camera, a blood pressure cuff, an electronic weight scale and a fingertip pulse oximeter that measures pulse rate and blood oxygen levels.

Engineering members of the team are Wilkes, Kawamura and Erdemir, along with Stan Franklin and Stephen Gordon from the University of Memphis. Emergency medicine members are Miller, Resident Cody Thorstenson, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine Gary Schwartz, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine Camiron Pfenning, Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine Alan Storrow and Administrative Director of Emergency Services Brent Lemonds. Members of the senior design project team are Taylor Wood, Reuben Banalagny, Troy Brown and Adil Ismail.

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