A robot greeting you in a hospital might feel like the start to a science-fiction movie, however a recent public trial could herald a new approach to the protection of front-line medical staff.
Part of a collaborative research project between South Western Sydney Local Health District's Clinical Innovation and Business Unit and the University of Technology Sydney, Pepper the humanoid robot was used to greet and direct visitors and patients to Fairfield Hospital earlier this month.
Fairfield Hospital general manager Paul Crowe said the hospital was chosen to trial the social robot technology because it serves one of Australia's most culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
"The robot is extra-special because it converses in five prevalent languages in south western Sydney- English, Mandarin, Arabic, Vietnamese and Italian,'' he said.
"Our patients and visitors have been amazed to see a robot in our foyer. It's been a real success, the robot is happy and friendly and everyone loves it.''
Mr Crowe said the robot interacts and collaborates with humans using artificial intelligence technology in a natural and socially intuitive way to help people find their way in a hospital.
The project aims to analyse the effectiveness of a social robot in a hospital role, studying how the robot listens to and speaks to people looking for directions in one-on-one engagement.
UTS Magic Lab director Professor Mary-Anne Williams said people-friendly robots can help transform the hospital experience for patients, visitors and health professionals.
"Hospitals are complex buildings so by greeting people and helping them find locations more easily, they are more likely to make appointments on time, and help staff maintain schedules," she said.
"Social robots can navigate, fetch and carry, and help people find and connect with each other. They are multilingual and able to understand more than 100 languages.
"People enjoy interacting with social robots because they can read human emotions, don't make judgements and have unlimited patience.''
Prof Williams said Pepper was created by Softbank Robotics and programmed by the UTS Magic Lab team.