Deep tech robotics company, Touchlab, has launched a pilot of Välkky the telerobot at a Finnish hospital. The 3-month pilot of Välkky the telerobot at Laakso Hospital in Helsinki, Finland was coordinated by Forum Virium Helsinki as part of a wider project in developing the most advanced hospital in Europe by 2028.
The way Välkky works is through operators who would control the telerobot via an electronic haptic glove. Välkky then is equipped with some of the most advanced electronic skin (e-skin) technology and sensors that allow clinicians from the other end to ‘feel’ the touch from its robotic hand transferred by the patients. The e-skin is made up of single or multiple ultra-thin force sensors that allow these tactile sensations to be transmitted to the other end in real-time.
“In the past, telerobots have been limited to being able to see, hear and speak on behalf of the people using them. Now, thanks to our innovative e-skin technology, robots like Välkky can ‘feel’ too — and not only on their fingertips. This ground-breaking pilot with our partners at Laakso Hospital is helping to enable new and unprecedented applications in robotics. It’s our ambition that the anonymized, real-time data gathered throughout the project will help prove that semi-autonomous robots can co-exist with and support professionals in a variety of industries like healthcare and the transition to greener energy sources…”, says Dr. Zaki Hussein, the CEO of Touchlab.
As of writing, there are 43,000 registered nursing vacancies in England. With Välkky coming into the picture, there are hopes that the telerobot will help alleviate the issue of complementing existing staff while assisting them in their nursing tasks. As such, Välkky is expected to also be able to carry out day-to-day clinical duties like measuring vital signs, serving meals, moving assistive devices, and supporting patient care.
“Envisioning a future where robots and caregivers collaborate seamlessly is something I find incredibly exciting. Our long-term goal is for Välkky to assist in a variety of day-to-day ward tasks to ensure the delivery of comprehensive patient monitoring and care. While Välkky will initially be deployed on a smaller scale, undertaking tasks like retrieving fallen items or taking patient vitals, it has the potential to help with a number of more complex jobs. This includes patient-lifting, which could help alleviate potential physical injuries for staff, and reducing the spread of infection.”, says Kirsi Ahonen, the Head Nurse and Project Manager at Laakso Hospital.
Seeing the potential and benefits robots can give to the healthcare industry, both the National Robotarium and the UK Government will be supporting the initiatives of Touchlab in further developing the application of robotics and AI. As Ahonen puts it, “…the integration of cutting-edge robotics into our healthcare team marks an exciting milestone and innovative technology like Välkky has the potential to revolutionize how we deliver patient care, support our dedicated staff and continue to provide exceptional care for our patients.”.