JUL 10, 2019 10:21 AM PDT

Social Robots Advance Therapeutic Interventions for Hospitalized Children

WRITTEN BY: Nouran Amin

Clinical interventions in current pediatric units seek to help hospitalized children for development and coping support using a wider range of therapeutic methods—such as medical play, art, crafts, and celebratory activities. Many hospitals host interventions in pediatric units, where child life specialists will provide clinical interventions to hospitalized children for developmental and coping support. Now, a study published in the journal Pediatrics, seeks to advance such interventions by using for the first time a “social robot”—or a robotic teddy bear referred to as “Huggable”.

Learn more about an earlier development of a social robot named Blossom:

"Child life staff provide a lot of human interaction to help normalize the hospital experience, but they can't be with every kid, all the time. Social robots create a more consistent presence throughout the day," adds first author Deirdre Logan, a pediatric psychologist at Boston Children's Hospital. "There may also be kids who don't always want to talk to people, and respond better to having a robotic stuffed animal with them. It's exciting knowing what types of support we can provide kids who may feel isolated or scared about what they're going through."

The study found importance of integrating Huggable in clinical interventions and how it improved various patient outcomes and positive emotions in sick children. "Our group designs technologies with the mindset that they're teammates. We don't just look at the child-robot interaction. It's about [helping] specialists and parents, because we want technology to support everyone who's invested in the quality care of a child,” noted co-author and an associate professor of media arts and sciences--Cynthia Breazeal.

MIT News: A new study by researchers from MIT, Boston Children’s Hospital, and elsewhere shows that a “social robot,” named Huggable (pictured), can be used in support sessions to boost positive emotions in hospitalized children. Image: Courtesy of the Personal Robots Group, MIT Media Lab

"We want to continue thinking about how robots can become part of the whole clinical team and help everyone," says Sooyeon Jeong, a PhD student working on the study. "When the robot goes home, we want to see the robot monitor a child's progress. ... If there's something clinicians need to know earlier, the robot can let the clinicians know, so [they're not] surprised at the next appointment that the child hasn't been doing well."

Source: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

About the Author
  • Nouran is a scientist, educator, and life-long learner with a passion for making science more communicable. When not busy in the lab isolating blood macrophages, she enjoys writing on various STEM topics.
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