A new study from UCLA finds a visit from human-controlled robot encourages a positive outlook and improves medical interactions for children who are hospitalized.

Robin is a social companion robot that stands about 4 feet tall and has the capabilities to move, talk and play with others while being remotely controlled by humans. Specialists from UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital’s Chase Child Life Program conducted hour-long video visits with young patients using Robin, comparing it to interactions using a standard computer tablet, from October 2020 to April 2021.

At the conclusion of the study period, children and their parents were interviewed about their experiences and child life specialists provided feedback in a focus group. Researchers then used a transcript of the discussion to identify recurrent and salient themes. 

Ninety percent of parents who had a visit with Robin indicated they were “extremely likely” to request another visit, compared to 60% of parents whose children interacted with the tablet. Children reported a 29% increase in positive affect — described as the tendency to experience the world in a positive way, including emotions, interactions with others and with life’s challenges after a visit with Robin and a 33% decrease in negative affect. Children who had a tablet visit reported a 43% decrease in positive affect and a 33% decrease in negative affect.

The results will be presented October 11 at the American Academy of Pediatrics national conference.

“Our team has demonstrated that a social companion robot can go beyond video chats on a tablet to give us a more imaginative and profound way to make the hospital less stressful,” said Dr. Justin Wagner, a pediatric surgeon at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital and senior author of the study.

Read the full news release.