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How this roboticist is advancing the art of human-robot interaction

How this roboticist is advancing the art of human-robot interaction
[Illustration: Artur Tenczyński]


Almost a third of a nurse’s average day “is spent on non-patient care: fetching, gathering, even taking out the trash,” says Andrea Thomaz, who, after a career spent running robotics labs at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Texas, cofounded Diligent Robotics to bring her human-robot interaction research to market. In September 2018, her company launched a five-hospital beta trial of Moxi, a hospital robot assistant that completes non-patient-facing tasks such as gathering and delivering supplies and lab samples. Thomaz is also honing the robot’s social intelligence to help it better interact with humans. Moxi can read and provide social cues, such as turning its “head”—an LED screen that runs simple face animations such as blinking its eyes—to indicate where it’s headed. Beta trials have helped Thomaz and nurses figure out the robot’s best uses ahead of its full launch later this year, and also how patients and hospital personnel will relate to it. One surprise: Staff and patients now crave social interaction with Moxi, who smiles, chatters in beeps, waves hello, and even poses for photos with them.

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