Välkky robot’s practical training at Laakso Hospital comes to end – encouraging results

The trial period of Välkky, the robot working at Laakso hospital, concluded at the end of December 2023 after an extended period. Välkky worked on one of the hospital’s wards under the guidance of nurses. The robot’s tasks included handing out items, engaging in conversations with patients and measuring temperature.
Välkky next to a patients bed.
Välkky next to a patients bed. Photo: Olli-Pekka Orpo

 “We had some challenges, particularly with internet connections, so we couldn’t try everything we initially intended. However, the trial has provided valuable experience on the direction in which Välkky could be developed, and the types of tasks it’s suitable for,” says Project Manager and Chief Nursing Officer Kirsi Ahonen.

“For example, we learned that Välkky’s arms could be longer to improve its reach. The speed of the robot’s actions has also been adjusted to prevent the hands from moving too quickly, for example,” says Head Nurse Mervi Leppänen.

Patients and nurses have shown curious interest in Välkky

Välkky’s working days on the ward were a few hours long. The robot mostly worked with around five patients on the ward. 

“The patients received Välkky well and with curiosity. They were willing to engage in conversations with Välkky. One patient mentioned that Välkky could be helpful in alleviating loneliness,” Leppänen reports.

Nurses found guiding the robot meaningful and considered Välkky an interesting colleague. Some quickly learned to guide Välkky, while others required a bit more practice. In total, 12 nurses were trained to guide the robot.

“During the trial, Välkky’s guidance has been improved, including making the elbows easier to control and guide. Safety features have also been developed to ensure that accidental movements, like a hand wave, don’t cause a similar motion in Välkky. Fine motor skills movements have been diligently practised as well,” Leppänen says.

“In the final stages of the trial, our nurses were guiding Välkky quite independently. Of course, in case of disturbances, we always received remote support from the robot developers.”


Välkky greeting patients dressed up as a Santa.
Välkky greeting patients dressed up as a Santa during Christmas. Photo: Kirsi Ahonen

Demand for robots in the hospital environment

Based on the trial, Leppänen and Ahonen believe a robot like Välkky can be useful in the hospital environment. Välkky can assist nurses in tasks such as physically demanding lifts and situations in which a patient is treated in isolation.

“It’s truly great that the city boldly participated in the trial. It was fantastic to be part of testing something so new and progressive. We’re immediately ready for new trials!

Different types of robotics definitely have a future in the hospital environment. Robotics specifically serves as an aid and support to nurses,” Ahonen concludes.

Zakareya Hussein, D.Eng., Managing Director and founder of Touchlab Limited, the company that developed the robot, agrees:

“During the trial, we could prove that our electronic skin, which provides the robot with a human-like sense of touch, enabled safe interaction between the robot, patients and nurses. We also learned a lot about what needs to be considered when humanoid robots like Välkky are used in hospitals, and which features really help nurses. The feedback we received from nurses was very valuable to us.

“In the future, we’ll develop the robot in a more autonomous, agile and robust direction. It was somewhat surprising for us that one of the most desired new features is enhancing Välkky’s autonomy.” 

Välkky robot trial

A robot originally designed for space was tested at Laakso Hospital. The robot uses electronic skin in its operation. This cutting-edge technology enables the nurse to feel everything the robot does through the controls.  

The robot is operated through controls, VR glasses and a control chair. It instantly replicates the movements of the guiding nurse, even from a long distance. The trial period began at Laakso Hospital in May 2023 and ended in December. 

You can read a previous news article about the Välkky robot here: A robot originally designed for space is being tested at Laakso Hospital.

The City of Helsinki’s innovation company Forum Virium participated in the implementation of the trial. You can read a news article about the project here: The worlds most advanced care robot received a promising welcome.(Link leads to external service)