In the summer of 2023, Laakso Hospital piloted a care robot named Välkky that utilises NASA space technology. The robot was commended by nurses and patients alike.
In May 2023, Laakso Hospital began a pilot in which an advanced care robot named Välkky was tested in a genuine hospital environment. Forum Virium Helsinki was involved in coordinating the trial as part of the FinEst Twins project.
The pilot was carried out to find out what patients and the hospital staff would think about the robot and in what kinds of tasks Välkky and its technologies could prove useful. The robot features cutting-edge technology that has never been utilised in the care sector before.
“Välkky got to carry out patient work, as using it is exceptionally safe,” comments Managing Director Zaki Hussein from Touchlab, the developer of the robot.
Välkky’s movements are constantly controlled by a nurse, so the robot never works without the supervision of a professional. Nurses control the robot via haptic gloves, a haptic suit or a control chair. ‘Haptic’ means technology that utilises the sense of touch.
The nurse controlling Välkky and the patient being treated do not have to be in the same room. However, thanks to the robot’s electronic skin, developed originally for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the nurse and the patient still feel each other’s touch.
Patients and care staff want to get to know Välkky
During the summer, 12 nurses were trained to control Välkky. Because the results were promising but the hospital wanted more of them, the trial was continued at least until the end of 2023.
During its trials, Välkky has met patients and carried out simple tasks, such as handing over small items and taking temperatures.
“For the most part, patients had a very positive reaction to the robot. They were willing to be in contact with it,” says Nurse Erik Uimonen from Laakso Hospital.
“The most important thing in this trial was to familiarise both the staff and the patients with the robot,” comments Head Nurse Kirsi Ahonen from Laakso Hospital.
Support and security for care work
Välkky was designed to serve as a working partner for care staff. In the future, it could help at least with repetitive tasks and physically taxing work. However, the aim is not to replace nurses, but to make their work easier and maintain their ability to work.
“For example, robots could help with heavy lifting work, provide an extra pair of eyes or work in infection rooms, where they could check the patients’ condition without risking a nurse’s wellbeing,” Uimonen muses.
Ahonen sees a demand for a wide variety of robots in the care sector: “Laakso Hospital has a rehabilitation robot that helps with walking, and we now had Välkky to pilot. We would like to have at least logistics and service robots at the new Laakso Joint Hospital.”
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