A telerobot developed by Scottish deep-tech startup Touchlabs has been launched at Laakso Hospital, Finland, as part of a three-month pilot scheme.

Designed to ‘feel’ patients, the robot will be trialled at the hospital to see how it can help nurses deliver care and reduce workloads.

Named Välkky, the robot is equipped with electronic skin technology that allows the transmission of tactile sensations such as pressure and vibration. Nurses will operate the robot through an electronic haptic glove and can use the technology to measure pulse, temperature and oxygen saturation.

Touchlabs says the robot’s uses go beyond vital sign measuring. Välkky is designed to carry out tasks such as handling patient meals, moving medical devices around the patient and even brushing hair.

The e-skin is the thickness of two human hairs and uses quantum tunnelling sensing principles to allow it to sense a force of just 0.01N and a pressure of 500Pa, all the way up to 30N and 160kPa.

Whilst the use of robotics in healthcare has seen much innovation for surgical uses, nursing applications are an area that has fallen behind. A report by GlobalData predicts that the surgical robotics market will be worth $10.3bn by 2030 while the care robotics market will be worth $4.1bn.

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However, as populations continue to age and staff shortages become more prevalent, innovations in care robots are speeding up. For example, a robot called Robear has already been in use in Japanese hospitals to assist nursing – particularly to help lift patients out of bed.

Touchlab recently took up residency at the National Robotarium – a hub for robotics and artificial intelligence developed with assistance from the UK and Scottish governments.

Laakso Hospital head nurse and project manager Kirsi Ahonen said: “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 reduce the spread of infection.

Touchlab CEO Dr Zaki Hussein said: “It’s our ambition that the anonymised, 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.”