Humanoid robot helping out at Czech hospital

Robot Pepper, photo: archive of Hořovice hospital

Faced with a lack of staff during the coronavirus crisis hospitals are getting help from all sides – students of medicine, medics who had long left the profession and soldiers. However a hospital in the town of Hořovice, west of Prague, has gone a step further.  The staff there is being ably assisted by a humanoid robot.

Patients arriving at Hořovice Hospital are greeted by the latest addition to the staff – a humanoid robot by the name of Dr. Pepper. Dr. Pepper  was originally intended for the children’s ward to bring a bit of cheer to the smallest patients, but at the height of the coronavirus epidemic he was redirected to the hospital‘s reception to give incoming patients directions, diffuse tension and generate more goodwill in meeting the stated safety requirements.

Dr. Pepper is 120 cm tall, weighs around 30 kilograms and can do a straight 12-hour shift before he needs an electricity refill. He rolls on wheels and is able to move his arms and head. His eyes contain cameras and sensors that enable him to identify where and how far away each patient is and whether his directions are being followed.

When a patient enters he approached them, introduces himself and asks to be allowed to make a presentation. He then asks the patient to use a sanitizer, keep a safe distance from others and move to the marks on the floor where they will get their temperature taken.

Petra Horáková, the hospitals spokeswoman says Dr. Pepper, whom the hospital staff call „Pete“ has become a huge favourite both with the staff and patients.

“The reason why he was put to work in the reception area reception was to identify possible Covid patients among incomers and to make the tedious repetitions of „please sanitize your hands, move forward to have your temperature taken, stand still and so on“ more acceptable for patients. He was originally intended for the children’s ward but he is now doing a good job here. People stop and listen to him because he is a novelty.”

The head of the reception area Natalie Kíle says Dr. Pepper has proved to be a great help –people not only listen to him, they are no longer impatient with having to wait or comply with the directions given.

“People stop to listen to him, they are amused, take selfies with him and I think it helps a lot. Of course, we have to come out ourselves from time to time when older people come in and are nervous when addressed by a robot because they don’t know what is expected of them. But most people follow his directions, they listen to the presentation and it helps.”

Given Dr. Peppers success the hospital management is planning to acquire more humanoid robots in the near future –not just for the children’s ward where he is eagerly awaited but other hospital areas as well.