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“Robots will replace tasks but not jobs.There are many actions in which they would be able to support health professionals.For example, in hospital logistics, in tasks related to collecting clothes or making beds in areas where patients with complex infections have been treated ".

"They could also be part of the home assistance teams and support to the staff of the convalescence or residences of the elderly, where they would help dress or eat the people who need it," explains Carme Torras, mathematics and writer, a teacherCSIC research and head of the Research Group in Perception and Manipulation of the Institute of Robotics and Industrial Informatics at the CSIC-UPC.

The main objective of the investigations led by Torras, awarded last October 26 with the National Exaequo 2020 Research Award for the Catalan Foundation for Research and Innovation (FCRI), are the care robots endowed with artificial intelligence, specialized in lendingsupport in the care of older people or in hospital centers.

Currently, the team led by Torras is focused on developing the European Clothilde project, one of the 2020 Horizon 2020 research and innovation programs for the January 2018 - December 2022 period, which has been extended until December 2023 because of the pandemia.

Clothilde is led by IRI (Institute of Industrial Robotics and Informatics, CSIC-UPC) and has received financial support that touches 2.5 million euros.The program wants to lay the basis of the versatile manipulation of clothing in charge of robots.

Invertia  Doblar la ropa o hacer la cama: lo que ya son capaces de hacer estos robots asistenciales españoles

Carme Torras with Clothilde.

“Today it is relatively simple to get a robot to manipulate a rigid object.Three position coordinates and three more orientation are enough to place it in space.But in the case of objects that change shape, such as clothes, they have infinite configuration dimensions, ”says Torras.

The European project aims to link automatic learning with computational topology methods, to reach a general framework that allows robots to learn to manipulate garments from human demonstrations."We are getting it.We already have robots prototypes capable of putting tablecloths on the tables, folding clothes or helping people with reduced mobility to dress or eat, ”announces Torras.According to the entrusted task, robots are used with one or two arms.

“In the Clothilde project we are developing three applications: one of them is to help dress people;Another is designed for logistics spaces that receive returns from garments from the sale online and, in this case, the robots will be folded again and embolled correctly to return them to the commercial circuit, "explains Torras.

"And a third - adds -, focused on hospital logistics, where they will help in the tasks of making the beds and collect used clothes.This performance in a hospital space is important, where the trajín of clothing of all kinds, some infected, is huge ”.

Open robotics laboratory

As for home assistance, robots will be the advance of health teams."Now they would be able to locate an address, call the bell, take the elevator and, once at home, collect patient data, which would send medical teams so that the intervention was much more efficient," he says.

In this sense, the Torras team is about to present in Catalonia the open laboratory project of care robotics, which will see the light at the beginning of next year and in which the CSIC will collaborate, which has already shown interest in being part.

Through it, they intend to agglutinate all the actors in the sector to promote this initiative.“We do research in algorithms of perception, manipulation and learning, but we do not develop robots.We need companies to be involved in production so that technology reaches users, which in this case are both caregivers and patients ”.

The results obtained in these years of research by the Torras team allow to be optimistic about the viability of healthcare robots."Together with the Parc Hospital Sanitari Pere Virgili, in Barcelona, we are studying the possibility of adapting some small robot arms so that they can feed different types of patients," he says.

But they want to go further, make them more flexible, and have also endowed them with a camera and a wrist sensor so that the robotic arm is able to adapt to any circumstance.“For example, that feed only when I observe that the person has their mouths open, or that if it bites the spoon, do not throw hard to get it out of my mouth because it could damage it.There are many different conditions in users and we want to cover them all possible, ”concludes Torras.

Innovation is a fact.It is only necessary to make the leap to production and marketing."We can already do the technological transfer to build productive units".The industry now has the last word.

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