Why on earth do you need a robot for?

4 min readApr 23, 2018

I bet that the first person/creature who forged a spoon out of wood didn’t get any credit for being inventive, because as soon as his or her relatives grasped that tool, it was so obvious, it felt like an innovation that had been with them all along. And that is what I fear the jury of my VINNOVA application in social robotics are going to feel when they read it.

You see, I work in an organisation where digitalisation is a strain, IT-systems are killing productivity thus motivation and the patients double while the resources are halved.

Market research shows that by 2035, 35% of the workforce will be missing in healthcare due to 1) declining birthrate and 2) declining interest in educations related to caregiving.

In a future where the few have to care for the many, how do we strengthen and equip caregivers to do their best? To stay in the hospital.

It hit me like a ton of bricks when I realised that a social robot, is an excellent and cost effective way of introducing a digital co-worker that eases the stress of digitalisation and administration. Let’s employ Pepper the Robot!

Me and Pepper meeting for the first time in April 2017

I was excellent at presenting the case to my team, I am horrible at penetrating the bystander. I haven’t practiced my elevator pitch thus the question from anyone overhearing this project idea is:

Why on earth does she need a robot? Can’t a computer do this?

My immediate response is “why not”

My more elaborate respons is “because automation is not about replacing people and adding a screen, it’s about replacing dated processes, headaches, stress, screen time, frustration and economic deficits”. It’s not about making people unemployed, it’s about making the caregivers we have today keep good health and high motivation so that they can last in the industry for a very long time to come.

So why not a computer, or an app, or an Alexa?

The level of efficacy that is needed to interact with a robot is minimal when the technology (The AI, UI, UX and NLP) cooperate.

Unlike a computer screen, or an app, a social humanoid robot is not something that requires you to do, it requires you to be. And simply being, is a lot easier than doing.

Humanoid, and even non-humanoid robots as is the case of Paro, provide something untangible but important, they create an emotional and long lasting attachement providing releif from anxiety and the ultimare UI, face to face.

Paro the seal

Pepper the Robot not only looks and feels human, she is just human enough, while also providing tactile feedback and emotion recognition.

So, to fully use the very researched benefits of social robotics in health care, we sought out to find partners that could help us with their expertise.

If I was to ask you to name an AI, and to name an AI that has stunned doctors, the probability is high that you are thinking of Watson from IBM.

After finding out that IBM has an ongoing collaboration with SoftBank Robotics, the makers of Pepper, I reached out to them in hopes that they would be our collaborators and guide us, while we (together with hired consultants) would develop a robotics solution that would fit our health care needs.

After many meetings, and careful structuring, IBM agreed to be the Yoda of our Star Wars Universe. Guiding us through this process and lending their massive experience in natural language processing.

The next step was assuring that SoftBank Robotics was on board, and they were very supportive. After having several meetings with a project manager at SoftBank who answered all my questions regarding tech, SDK, insurance, training, delivery etc, I became much more sure that Pepper was the right robot to use for this project, and it felt very securing to know that SoftBank was in our corner.

We all have the vision that it has to be flawless, seamless and natural in order to solve, not create, problems.

So here we are, three major players, ready to change health care, ready to introduce a top of the line automation project that will change the work process of caregivers. All I need is funding.

The question is, will we be given the chance to do so, or are we the next creator of the spoon?