Duke Professors Collaborate to Advance Science


Kris Hauser, PhD, associate professor at Duke University Pratt School of Engineering and Ryan Shaw, PhD, RN, associate professor at Duke University School of Nursing are co-principal investigators and have recently received an award for their National Science Foundation proposal entitled “Customizing Semi-Autonomous Nursing Robots using Human Expertise.” Their proposal was awarded $962,572 for a three-year period.

Their grant aims to advance the science of using robots in unstructured environments by achieving push-button autonomy where a nurse can command routine tasks such as measuring vital signs, deactivating false alarms, bodily fluid clean-up or specimen transport with a single button press. Like other health care robots, this robot will need to respond to a wide variety of unexpected tasks that occur in the course of patient care.

Shaw, whose research focuses on developing and integrating mobile health technologies and their data into electronic health records, plans to use mobile sensors on the robot to safely access a patient’s medical data. Through strategically placed sensors, the robot will be able to perform tasks and collect medical data, improving the safety of health care workers in the area.

During the three-year period, Hauser and Shaw will develop a library of primitive autonomous tasks for the robot, develop user interfaces for domain experts to customize the high-level autonomous tasks, and evaluate the results in the Duke School of Nursing’s Health Innovation Lab then later in clinical settings. The semiautonomous robot will combine the strengths of robots and humans to solve common tasks.

Health care workers routinely handle contaminated bodily fluids, tissue samples and instruments potentially exposing them to dangerous pathogens. During a contagious disease outbreak, there is a high risk of patients spreading disease to other patients and health care professionals. These risks could be avoided by using robots for patient care in these scenarios. Robots can also provide potential benefits to improved access of care in rural settings and streamlining repetitive tasks to reduce costs.

In previous work, Hauser and Shaw developed a robot—Tele-Robotic Intelligent Nursing Assistant (TRINA)—that functions in a quarantine area or isolation room alongside infectious patients while a human nurse safely controls it from outside. TRINA has shown promise in nurse-patient communication, mobility, food and medicine delivery, cleaning, biological specimen collection and sensing of patient vital signs.

Results from Hauser and Shaw’s research will be published in high-quality academic journals and conference proceedings in the robotics, artificial intelligence, intelligent user interface fields as well as the nursing, medical and health informatics fields. It is their hope that robots may be able to improve the health care system’s agility to respond to disease outbreaks by more effectively deploying resources in remote locations and enabling human caregivers to attend to more patients simultaneously.

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