By Peter Barker
A four-foot-tall humanoid robot called Robin cheers up hospitalized children by talking and playing games with them, a study found.
Specialists from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Mattel Children’s Hospital’s Chase Child Life Program carried out visits to young patients with the robot between October 2020 and April 2021.
In the study, other children were given just a tablet to interact with.
“Ninety percent of parents who had a visit with Robin indicated they were ‘extremely likely’ to request another visit, compared to 60 percent of parents whose children interacted with the tablet,” the study found.
“Children reported a 29 percent increase in positive effect — described as the tendency to experience the world in a positive way, including emotions, interactions with others and with life’s challenges — after a visit with Robin and a 33 percent decrease in negative effect.”
Children who had a tablet visit reported a 43 percent decrease in positive affect and a 33 percent decrease in negative effect.
“Our team has demonstrated that a social companion robot can go beyond video chats on a tablet to give us a more imaginative and profound way to make the hospital less stressful,” Justin Wagner, M.D., a pediatric surgeon at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital and senior author of the study, said.
Child life specialists said that interactions with Robin resulted in a greater display of intimacy and interactivity between children during playtime and helped them build new friendships.
“As the pandemic continues, our patients are still feeling anxious and vulnerable in a variety of ways, so it’s critical that we be as creative as possible to make their experiences easier when they need our help,” Wagner said.
“We saw the positive effect in children, their families and healthcare workers.”
“This is another tool in our toolbox to provide developmental and coping support for our young patients,” said Kelli Carroll, director of the Chase Child Life Program. “While our traditional interventions are on pause during the pandemic, the need remains to prepare, educate and provide behavioral distraction for children. Robin will help our specialists do that.”
Robin not only benefited the children and their parents but also the hospital staff as it increased staff engagement in social care while helping them maintain infection control practices, the study found.
The research was presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference on Oct. 11.
Edited by Richard Pretorius and Kristen Butler
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