1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm; 2) A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law; 3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws. – Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics
If Isaac Asimov were a Medgadget reader, he would be excited to learn about the developments in robotics, especially in the field of healthcare (e.g. the da Vinci surgical system). With the exception of products such as the Roomba, however, robots have failed to penetrate the consumer market in a meaningful way. Intuitive Automata Inc. is a company that aims to change that with their Autom robot, a friendly machine that aims to be your weight loss coach. They recently launched an indiegogo campaign to fund their initial manufacturing run of the robot. We caught up with Intuitive Automata’s Founder and CEO, Dr. Cory Kidd, to learn more about how he believes the Autom can be applied to healthcare.
Shiv Gaglani, Medgadget: What is your background in technology, especially as it relates to medicine?
Dr. Cory Kidd: I did my undergraduate degree in Computer Science at Georgia Tech, where I focused on human-computer interaction. I was working on projects related to health and the elderly population and ended up helping to oversee the construction and running of a research lab for work on aging in place, the Aware Home (http://www.awarehome.gatech.edu). In 2001 I went back to school, going to the MIT Media Lab where I did my M.S. and Ph.D. in human-robot interaction. The first few years of that were focused on the psychology of these interactions and the last 3-4 years I was working jointly at Boston University Medical Center in the clinic of Dr. Caroline Apovian.
Over the last nearly decade and a half, I have had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of health-related challenges with many types of technology.
Medgadget: How did you come up with the idea (and name) for Autom? It sounds like “Autumn” – are there plans to make a corresponding male robot?
Kidd: The name ‘Autom’ is sort of a play on words. For psychological reasons, we wanted Autom to be seen as more feminine — people in western cultures tend to see women as more helpful and supportive and the work of Cliff Nass at Stanford University shows that these stereotypes carry over into technology. We named the company Intuitive Automata using the word for robots that pre-dates the actual word ‘robot’ by a long time. (‘Robot’ is a relatively new word coined less than a century ago by the Capek brothers for a play. The genesis of the word isn’t very positive, it means “serf labor” or “hard work.”)
Then the name Autom is a shortening of Automata and can also be a woman’s name, so we went with that for our first product, our health coach.
We plan to offer other voices, other personalities, and additional accessories in the future so that everyone will be able to customize their robot as they like.
Medgadget: Who do you expect to benefit from purchasing Autom? In what ways?
Kidd: Our first product is our health coach that helps someone who is trying to lose or maintain their weight. If we look around the US, we have 69% of our adult population overweight or obese, and the numbers are growing around the rest of the world as well. One of the biggest challenges for people trying to diet is simply sticking with the diet and Autom provides the motivation and support that is needed to succeed. So there are many people who could benefit from having Autom at home as their coach.
Medgadget: Do you have any initial results that indicate how effective Autom is at actually being a weight coach?
Kidd: Yes, there are clinical results showing the efficacy of Autom in keeping people on a weight loss program for longer than either a computer running identical software or today’s standard of care, the paper log. This was published as part of my Ph.D. dissertation at MIT and is available at http://www.intuitiveautomata.com/documents/KiddPhDThesis.pdf.
Medgadget: We see that there are plans to integrate Autom with devices such as activity monitors and weight scales. Are there plans to integrate Autom with mHealth (e.g. text-messaging, social networking) and – perhaps more ambitiously – EHRs? Do you already have partnerships in line (e.g. with Fitbit, Withings, Zeo, etc)?
Kidd: Yes, integration is an important part of what we’re doing with Autom and with trends in consumer healthcare technology in general. One of the exciting things about where the industry is moving is a trend towards open APIs. So things like the Fitbit activity tracker or the Withings wireless scale have data available that we can integrate with without needing to go through any process of forming a partnership.
As we’re preselling Autom on indiegogo (http://igg.me/p/279351?a=1760739), we’re taking requests from our early customers about which devices we should be integrating and working to get those in place by the time Autom ships.
In the near future, integrating with mHealth applications and technologies is on the drawing board. Creating or partnering with the right smartphone app or two is something that we want to happen in the next six months.
Slightly further down the road, we expect to be integrating with EHRs. We have a lot of interest in our product from clinicians, from hospitals, from insurers, and from employers. To make the technology that we’re creating an important and effective part of the healthcare system, I believe that this kind of integration is necessary.
Medgadget: What does Autom use for speech recognition? There’s been a lot of talk about Google’s voice recognition platform and how it trounces Siri – what are your thoughts?
Kidd: We’re looking at integrating speech recognition in the near future, but we’re not quite there yet because of the technology. One thing that is paramount for us is the user experience. Autom should be easy for anyone to use, whether you’re the kind of person reading this blog post on your iPad on the go or if you’re someone who has never owned a computer. In fact, one of our early users was a retired state police trooper outside of Boston who wanted to have nothing to do with Autom when I brought her into his home and then refused to give her up a couple months later!
With speech recognition, it’s gotten to the point where it works pretty well on your mobile phone. Not perfectly, but definitely much more usable than a few years ago. Now when we move the microphone from being an inch from your mouth to on Autom on the counter top in front of you, it starts picking up more background noise and the recognition accuracy starts to drop. We don’t want people to have the experience of Autom constantly saying things like “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that.”, “Can you repeat that?”, or “I think you said…”. We want to make sure she works well for everyone consistently before we introduce new features.
If you want to learn more about her, you can see our web site for Autom at http://www.myautom.com and if you want one of your own or to support us in our quest to bring beneficial social robots to the world, please support our Indiegogo campaign today at http://igg.me/p/279351?a=1760739.
To learn more, check out their Indiegogo video:
Link: Intuitive Automata…