A robot originally designed for space is being tested at Laakso Hospital

The new high-tech robot handles simple nursing tasks in the hospital, such as serving meals, moving aids, brushing hair and switching off lights, for example. The robot can also measure vital signs, such as pulse, temperature or oxygen saturation.
Välkky robootti työssään.
Photo: Olli-Pekka Orpo

“The robot is currently being tested. We will see what it is capable of. Everything is done in agreement with the patients and ensuring that they receive the support and care they need,” says head nurse and project manager Kirsi Ahonen.

“The robot has many safety features that ensure that it is safe to use in the hospital. Among other things, the robot senses touch and force in its arms, so it evades the patient if they push it. The robot also has 360-degree vision,” says Zakareya Hussein, D.Eng., CEO and founder of Touchlab Limited.

The robot will be tested in one of the Laakso Hospital wards. The test will begin in May and last for about two months. The patients in the ward have been informed of the test.

A healthcare professional controls the robot

Twelve nurses have been trained to control the robot. In practice, the robot is controlled through control gloves, i.e. haptic gloves, a control suit or a control chair.

“Controlled by a healthcare professional, the robot supports the work of our medical staff. It is by no means a substitute for our professionals. The personnel situation in the healthcare sector is challenging, and this is one way to think about and find out whether robotics could be of help in carrying out tasks that do not require training in the field,” says Ahonen.

Employees could vote on a name for their new robotic colleague on the basis of residents’ proposals.

"The name Välkky was chosen, as it describes the fact that we are now the first in the world to test a completely new kind of robotics in a hospital environment,” says Ahonen.

The robot is the first in the world to use electronic skin

The robot works over a wireless network even over long distances. The Välkky robot reproduces in real time the movements of the body, hands and head of the nurse controlling it. It uses electronic skin in its operation, which allows the sensation to be transmitted to the fingertips, palms and, if necessary, the entire body of the nurse controlling the robot.

The robot uses one human-like hand and another two-fingered secondary hand. The robot is about the size of an average human.

“With the help of electronic skin, the robot is able to make even subtle movements. Välkky is a unique robot. It can only be compared to surgical robots, which can also be remotely controlled but have no sense of touch,” says Hussein.

“In the future, the robot could be used for the treatment of isolation patients, for example. With the help of the robot, it is also possible to reduce the physical strain on nurses. The robot can bend, lift and reach high,” continues Hussein.

The robot is supplied and the test funded by Touchlab Limited. The company has been developing an electronic skin that enables human-like sense of touch on a robot. It is the world’s most advanced remote-controlled robotic solution that uses electronic skin and is now being tested for the first time in a hospital. The robot was originally developed for use in space.

“This is also a great opportunity for us to develop a robot. We want to find out what the robot is capable of and what we still need to change and improve,” says Hussein.