Òscar Dalmau is the Director of UCF and Director of the International Centre for Lifelong Training at the Fundació Universitària del Bages.
For the last eight years, Oscar Dalmau has directed the Unió Consorci Formació, a company responsible for healthcare training. Right from the outset Oscar has had confidence in us and supported our project and its joint concerns: healthcare and training.
How are you, Oscar? We would be delighted if you could explain how you see our project.
Do you think that robots can really change our daily lives?
Without a shadow of a doubt! Today we are in the midst of a transformation which experts have called the fourth industrial revolution. This is a time of constant expansion and technological transformation and there are those who even compare the change to be generated by robotics with the changes brought about by the steam engine. The World Economic Forum has referred to the role that robotics will have in the innovation and transformation of businesses, and highlights the potential risks in terms of losses of potential jobs, in particular in those functions and tasks which are mechanical repetitive and add little added value
We are still only at the beginning and there are still many challenges to be faced in many different areas: nanorobotics, microrobotics, the connection and interrelation between robots (based on the Internet of Things), the interrelation between robotics and artificial intelligence, etc.
How do you think social robotics can help us improve our health system?
Social robotics is responsible for one part (just a small part) of the impact of innovation and the various technological developments on the healthcare sector which will lead to its transformation.
Social robots will be able to carry out tasks and functions that will complement the work of healthcare professionals. It will be possible for these tasks to be suited to the circumstances of each person and for the results to be monitored and stored, etc. This will make it possible to undertake increasingly valuable activities for patients and users in healthcare (not only in orientation, dynamization, care, and communication, etc.)
Some people are afraid that the advent of robots like Pepper may dehumanize healthcare. What do you think?
All progress and all changes generate fear and resistance in some professional groups. However, it’s curious how when different people (at different professional levels) think about the potential uses of Pepper in the sector, they tend to agree that it will help to humanize it even more. Patients don’t tend to remember the tests that are being carried out, or the technical words and guidance given to them by professionals. They do tend to remember, however, how they felt and how they were made to feel. The potential of social robots in healthcare and the assistance provided by Pepper to professionals will help patients feel better supported, better guided, better informed, and certainly more cared for.
How well do you think healthcare staff, users and families will accept the new robots?
I think that society will learn to accept robots will not only in the healthcare sector but in all areas. Many websites already use chatbots to answer questions; on television we can see the progress made by driverless vehicles; through friends neighbors, colleagues at work we know that robots are used in production, logistics, and even in shops with no staff. Little by little we will begin to incorporate this layer of technology in our day-to-day lives, particularly if it provides more value. And in our case this means improving people’s health.
We are evaluating projects to provide care for children, elderly people, reporting processes and therapeutic training. Do you think that these research lines are of interest? Can you think of any others?
Without doubt, working with children is particularly valuable, as they accept and are interested in this type of technology. It is also a priority to work with elderly people; let’s not forget that in the next decade Spain will be the country with the second most rapidly ageing population in the world. The application of robotics to health should both be directed at all levels of society (adolescents, young people, and adults, etc.) and customized to suit the different pathologies and illnesses. And lastly, it should be incorporated within companies in order to complement their activities in health and safety at work.
We are conscious that questions will arise for which we may well have no answers. What are the dangers associated with social robotics in healthcare, in your opinion?
One of the risks is that its potential may be eclipsed by other types of technology (virtual or augmented reality, intelligent operating theatres, etc.) and other types of robotics (nanorobotics, microrobotics, remote surgery, etc.) that are more focused on clinical activities. Maybe the focus on support, guidance, help, care or intervention may be less well recognized, when in fact it is equally or even more valuable (especially from the patients’ perspective and in terms of their empowerment and experience).
And the opportunities?
For me, one of the key aspects is the ability of social robotics to interact with artificial intelligence. The ability to monitor patients (for example using social robots to provide care at home) and the resulting use of big data could make it possible to provide customized care, support, and advice at home. Another aspect is its capacity to read the patient’s “signs”, both emotional and biological (which can perhaps be monitored by different wearables which through the Internet of things can be connected to the social robot).
The training of health care staff is very important in the health world. Do you think that robotics can provide assistance in the training of professionals?
I believe two things: On the one hand, I believe that it’s essential for all professionals to receive better training in the potential use of social robots. As professionals become more familiar with Pepper and its potential development over the next 3, 5 or 10 years, they, as well as patients, families, and carers, will be able to help us to identify opportunities for development which are perhaps not yet covered by the system and which contribute added value. On the other hand, the use of robots (and other types of technology like virtual or augmented reality, and 3D printing, etc.) in the training and management of knowledge will experience exponential growth as development costs decrease and the use of technology in the workplace increases substantially.
How do you see it being implemented?
In the past, professional training was undertaken in trade schools. In those schools, experts (painter, cabinetmaker, electrician, etc.) taught young apprentices the trade. Just as those experts took young people by the hand to show them how to draw lines more clearly, it may be that Pepper can take the hand of young professionals to show them how to develop different skills and apply different techniques.
At any rate, I can envisage Pepper integrated within a network of knowledge in which various technological aids are available to people to access the knowledge and to the lessons at the time they need them and for the individual case or specific circumstances.
I can also envisage that the distinction we make today between working time and training time will disappear and both will be integrated within a professional context, making it possible to simulate and practice a technique or skill before using it with a patient.