Australian hospital recruits Pepper humanoid robot for medical trial

Tinuku - An Australian hospital is trialing the use of a humanoid robot this month to provide information and direct visitors, much to the fascination of patients and staff alike.

Pepper, a model of robot developed by Japanese company SoftBank Robotics, has been used internationally in customer support positions due to its engaging and humanlike features, Belinda Ward from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) told Xinhua on Friday.

Tinuku Australian hospital recruits Pepper humanoid robot for medical trial

For the first time in Australia, Pepper has been providing patients and visitors at Townsville Hospital in the State of Queensland with information regarding 10 simple aspects of the hospital, such as how they can wash their hands, where to get a coffee and where to find parking meters.

Enrolled nurse Anne Elvin, whose idea it was to bring Pepper to Townsville, said that while initially people are unsure of the robot they tend to warm to her very quickly, "when they notice the little fingers moving and the little gestures of the arms, they start to imagine that it's got some human instinct to it."

"We've found it a really positive experience for patients, visitors and any of the staff that engage with it," Elvin said.

The trial is a joint initiative between the Australian Centre of Excellence in Robotic Vision at QUT, James Cook University and the Queensland government. While Pepper can't yet help nursing staff with complex tasks, it still has an important and helpful role to play within the hospital environment.

"The advantage that Pepper has over just being a touch screen for example, is that she really does feel like she's listening and engaging with you. People coming into a hospital might be a bit stressed or worried and it can be quite reassuring and I guess a little bit fun to interact with a robot like Pepper," Ward said.

The next aspect of the trial will involve Pepper taking on an education role and informing people about the influenza virus, which the hospital will gauge people's reactions to. But for now, Pepper's job is mostly just to put a smile on to people's faces, something it succeeds in doing, sometimes unconventionally.

"An emergency department consultant once asked Pepper where to find a doctor, which was not a line we had it programmed to answer, and Pepper replied with information about where the shops and cafes were. Everybody had a big laugh because it was kind of accurate," Elvin recalled.