Medical robot trial to be expanded.

Robots could soon be providing frontline healthcare to elderly Kiwis.

In an experiment co-funded by the Korean and New Zealand Governments robots have been given to four elderly Gore patients.

Its success means recruitment is now under way for a 60-patient study at Auckland's Middlemore Hospital.

The Korean-made machines, called iRobi, have been adapted to do assess blood pressure, heart rate and temperature.


The touch-screen robots also offer video calling, internet access and gaming and it is hoped they could be commercialised for medical use, offering faster, more cost-effective care for the elderly - particularly in rural areas - and an alternative to GP house calls for basic check-ups.

Auckland University scientists are leading the initiative and this week presented their findings from the study at the International Conference on Social Robotics in Paris.

Health psychologist Dr Elizabeth Broadbent said the Europeans were surprised. "The feedback was no one else is trying anything as ambitious as this," she said from Paris. "The goal now is to expand testing with a larger case study."

Research partner Associate Professor Bruce MacDonald said the basic companionship from the interactive robots was also important. "We now need to test in bigger numbers and with a control group to get scientific data," he said.

Peggy Haar, 90, was involved in the Gore study and said her robot eased daily life. "Us oldies do need help," she said.

"When you're taking medication three times a day, the robot reminds [you to] stop you forgetting."

Family and carers can also log into the systems and check on loved ones from anywhere in the world.

Touch-screen check-ups and chat with an iRobi

The 30cm robots' touch screen allows users to do basic medical assessments. Each unit in the university study cost $3000 and functions include:


• Reminding owners when to take medication. An on-line log-system can be accessed remotely with a smart phone.

• Measuring heart rate, temperature and blood pressure.

• Talking and displaying emotion with lights, to provide basic social interaction. Pat iRobi and it gives a welcoming "Hi!" and it will say "I'm hungry!" as a low-battery warning.

• Internet access and video-calling to keep in contact with family and carers. They also offer memory games for mental stimulation.