darwin-robot-1 Meet Darwin, The Friendly Robot Changing Physical Therapy

Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology are taking health and tech to new heights. Recently, they’ve been using robots to assist in helping children and adults meet their physical therapy goals. Their findings have shown that combining a game with words of encouragement and physical cues from the robots increases a patient’s efforts in comparison to them doing the work on their own.

To experiment, researchers monitored their subject’s movements using a 3-D motion tracker, with Darwin (the robot), encouraging subjects for correct motions. They found that Darwin helped to greatly increase physical activity in all cases but one.

Georgia Tech professor and spearhead of the Darwin project, Anna Howard says, “One of the primary issues with therapy is that kids aren’t getting enough of it,” “For it to be effective, you need to do it every day,” she further stated.

Howard also stated that a robot such as Darwin could also be used with elderly patients, reminding them to take their medication, perform their daily exercises, etc. Some nursing homes are already putting robotics to use. Paro, a robotic seal made in Japan, is being used in nursing homes to help reduce patient stress.

While the elderly seem to be welcoming to the idea of robotic assistance, children may be a bit more hesitant. Dan Schwartz, a lab director at Stanford says “Children were often scared of the robot…” “They were sort of alive, but not alive. So all those issues with the ‘uncanny valley’ really show up with young kids.”                                   

As technology advances, there’s no telling if or when robots will replace physical therapists; however, for right now, they provide an affordable support system and guide to those who normally wouldn’t be able to afford such attentive care. Companies are starting to catch on and are now developing robotic assistants for the home.