A team of researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute are developing humanoid, remote-controlled nursing robots to potentially help patients in quarantine as well as combat the ongoing staffing shortages.
The team is led by Jane Li, an assistant professor of robotics engineering at WPI. The robots, known as Tele-Robotic Intelligent Nursing Assistant, or TRINA, are meant to be user-friendly and can perform tasks in settings that would otherwise leave nurses at risk of infection.
“I understand the heavy workloads and stress that nurses encounter, and their fear of being exposed to infectious diseases as they care for patients,” Li said in a WPI press release Wednesday. “These TRINA robots can relieve physical and emotional stress on healthcare workers.”
The TRINA robots have arms able to transport medications or infectious samples, help patients adjust their positions, and lift and carry a patient. The development for the robot initially began at Duke University in 2016, when He was a postdoctoral research fellow there, to help combat the Ebola and zika viruses.
“Since I moved to WPI, I have continued this research, but shifted the focus to developing an interface that would be easy to learn for nurses and nursing homes,” he told the Worcester Business Journal. “It’s unexpected that we have the COVID-19 outbreak, so the need for a telehealth robot to help with patient care in the situation becomes pretty immediate.”
In addition to her research team at WPI, Dr. He said she was working with Paula Bylaska-Davies, a nursing professor at Worcester State University, to provide expertise on how to design the robot to be more user-friendly for nurses.
In addition, Li stated the robots could also be used to address staffing shortages in hospitals. Nursing shortages across the have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, where more than 1 million healthcare workers have been infected with the virus and more than 4,000 have died, according to the CDC.
The state of Massachusetts, including in Worcester, remains no exception to the shortage. In February, UMass Chan Medical School’s counseling and operations division appointed former MassBay Community College Director Andrea Bresnahan as part of a statewide initiative on addressing the nursing shortage in Massachusetts.
According to the WPI research team, a prototype for TRINA robot is expected to begin sometime testing in the summer.