Robots that care, with increased cognitive abilities. Robots able to perceive their environment, understand it, respond and behave appropriately and navigate autonomously. Robots that can assist patients and support the work of nurses and doctors in hospitals. This is what Konica Minolta Laboratory Europe aims to do within the course of a partnership with the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT), and the hospital Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, in San Giovanni Rotondo (Foggia).
The research and development activities of the past few months culminated with a first demonstration involving an R1 robot, developed by IIT, navigating the corridors of the Italian hospital and interacting with doctors and patients.
R1 is a humanoid robot developed by IIT to be able to assist people in different scenarios. It has an innovative structure, 50% of its body is composed of plastic materials. R1 is today able to recognize people and objects and as part of the collaboration with Konica Minolta it will have a more sophisticated interaction with doctors and patients by better understanding their activities and responding to their requests and needs accordingly. “The R1 humanoid was conceived to operate in many different professional contexts, from retail to surveillance, with rehabilitation and assistive capabilities for domestic and hospital environments,” says Giorgio Metta, Scientific Deputy Director of IIT and responsible for the R1 project. “The collaboration with Konica Minolta and with the hospital Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza represents one of the steps that IIT is following to further develop this research prototype into a fully operational system for everyday use.”
This field of experimentation has been possible also thanks to the hospital Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza. Opened in 1956 by Saint Pio, this healthcare facility has nowadays 900 beds divided between 30 medical and surgical wards, 50 clinical specialties, 2,900 employees, 60,000 yearly admissions and over 1.3 million outpatient services.
“We have welcomed Konica Minolta Laboratory Europe, to deploy robotic systems within the hospital,” says Francesco Giuliani, ICT, Innovation & Research Manager at IRCCS Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza. “In the current setup, we are making the first attempts to use the R1 robot of IIT, to accompany a patient as part of their daily routines. This experience is part of our current projects aimed at optimizing health care professionals’ time.”
The Robotics industry is expected to thrive during the next five years. Within this context, the medical robotics market has a very important role; it includes surgical robots, rehabilitation robots, non-invasive radiosurgery robots and pharmacy dispensing robots (please see this report on the global investments in medical robotics). Konica Minolta Laboratory Europe is aiming to extend the use of medical robots towards the assistive domain. The major challenge is to build robotics systems that will be able to support end users to perform their activities in different application contexts. By embedding robots with the latest and most advanced Artificial Intelligence capabilities, these systems are learning to perceive and navigate within different types of real-world environments and they are becoming able to interpret the information they collect and to trigger an appropriate response or action.
The final goal aims to implement a distributed robotics platform, orchestrated within the framework of Cognitive Hub, in many varied contexts: from the medical environment to digital workplaces and industry 4.0 applications.
“We are only at the beginning of a wider research collaboration with medical institutions that in a few years could make assistive robotics become a widespread asset in hospitals and nursing homes,” says Filippo Silva, R&D Strategy and Technology Manager of the Konica Minolta Laboratory Europe in Rome. “The ultimate goal is to orchestrate multiple robots and to leverage on the Internet of Things to extend the perception to support the business of the future.”
Beyond assistive robotics, Konica Minolta is exploring how digital technologies shape the future of healthcare. In close collaboration with clinical users, in its four R&D laboratories throughout Europe, Konica Minolta conducts research into applications of its semantic technologies to the understanding of medical documents.
Also medical imaging plays a crucial role in hospitals: in the detection and diagnosis of disease; in the assessment and decision of the appropriate treatment; in the preclinical research and clinical trials required to create new therapies. This is why, in the field of precision medicine, the dedicated Konica Minolta laboratory in Munich is developing advanced image and data analytics solutions and uses computer vision, deep learning and other machine learning approaches to process medical images.