Meet Grace, the healthcare robot COVID-19 created

Reuters

The Hong Kong team behind celebrity humanoid robot Sophia is launching a new prototype, Grace, targetted at the healthcare market and designed to interact with the elderly and those isolated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dressed in a blue nurse's uniform, Grace has collar-length brown hair and a thermal camera in her chest to take your temperature and measure your responsiveness. She uses artificial intelligence to diagnose a patient and can speak English, Mandarin and Cantonese.

"I can visit with people and brighten their day with social stimulation ... but can also do talk therapy, take bio readings and help healthcare providers," Grace told Reuters as she stood next to her "sister", Sophia, in creator Hanson Robotics' Hong Kong workshop.

Grace's resemblance to a healthcare professional and capacity for social interaction is aimed at relieving the burden of frontline hospital staff overwhelmed during the pandemic, said founder David Hanson.

"A human-like appearance facilitates trust and natural engagement because we are wired for human face-to-face interactions," Hanson said, explaining how Grace can simulate the action of more than 48 major facial muscles, and has a comforting demeanour designed to look a little like anime characters, often a fusion of Asian and Western styles.

Awakening Health intends to mass-produce a beta version of Grace by August, said David Lake, chief executive of the joint venture between Hanson Robotics and Singularity Studio, and there are plans to fully deploy her next year in locations including Hong Kong, mainland China, Japan and Korea.

The cost of making the robots, now akin to luxury car pricing, will decrease once the company is manufacturing tens or hundreds of thousands of units, Hanson added.

Grace's launch comes as the global impact of the coronavirus has made the need for humanoid robots urgent, said Kim Min-Sun, a communicology professor at the University of Hawaii.

Stuck at home during COVID-19 lockdowns, many people have had their mental states affected with negative thoughts.

"If they can get help through the deployment of these social robots in intimate settings, certainly it will have a positive impact on society," she said.

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