Moving With Moxi

Thinking back on our perceptions of the future, it seems like we should be overrun by robots at this point.

Instead of having robots that take potential jobs from humans, we have robots that ease the stress and workload of one of the most demanding jobs in society.

The healthcare industry was hit harder by COVID-19 than any other profession. According to a study from Healthcare Finance, 84% of nurses reported that they felt at least mildly burned out from work, with 18% feeling completely burned out.

Our nurses, especially during the pandemic, work long hours and spend an astonishing 30% of their time fetching and gathering supplies. This involves gathering personal protective equipment (PPE), lab results, medicine, and whatever else a patient may need.

With all of the time spent running around, in addition to caring for patients and their families, how could a nurse not be completely exhausted by the end of their 10-hour shift?

Meet Moxi, a robot designed to be the perfect teammate for nurses and healthcare workers everywhere.

Photo provided by Diligent Robotics

Moxi was designed and created by Diligent Robotics, a robotics company from Austin that develops artificial intelligence to enable robots to collaborate with and adapt to humans.

Diligent was created in 2018 by co-founder/CTO Vivian Chu and co-founder/CEO Andrea Thomaz. Due to their academic backgrounds, this pair of innovators spent their time writing research papers about how robots are changing the world in our everyday lives.

Instead of waiting on the sidelines, Chu and Thomaz put themselves in the starting lineup by creating Diligent.

“We were writing a lot of papers, writing about how robots are changing the world and being integrated into everyday life. During this time, we realized that at some point we want to see robots out and about, which is something you don't see today,” Chu said. “The technology and the cost of hardware all seemed like something we were ready to tackle and make available to the world. So, essentially the way that Diligent got started is that we said, ‘okay well let's go and see if we can take the technology that we're no longer doing research papers about and actually see if we can help people.’”

Once Chu and Thomaz saw the benefits that robots and automation could provide people firsthand, they decided to focus on healthcare. After applying for a Small Business Innovation Research grant (SBIR), the two innovators went to work. Chu and Thomaz spent long hours working directly with nurses and doctors to see what areas a potential robot would be best suited for.

“We could see automation being incredibly helpful to people, and that's when we sort of landed on starting out in healthcare. We saw a need and saw that this could be a space where robotics can make a huge impact,” Chu said. “From there, we actually applied to the SBIR, a small grant that allowed us to really explore our ideas. This allowed us to shadow nurses and clinical staff where we spent more than 150 hours watching them work and figuring out where we wanted to really focus. The problem was very obvious … they are running around, and all the studies about how staff spend more than 30% of their time fetching and gathering, we got to see it firsthand.”

From their initial studies, Moxi was born. The main goal of Moxi was to validate Chu and Thomaz’s idea that nurses spent 30% of their time gathering supplies and information.

Vivian Chu, CTO and co-founder, with Moxi

“The initial motivation was really validating this idea that staff spent up to 30% of their time fetching and gathering. And if that is true, then they are not performing at the top of their license. Instead, they are spending their time running around and not focusing on true patient care. For Moxi, it was really about those initial studies where we were looking at [the] time that they spent not focused on patients. We began looking at their interruptions and even their cognitive load from having to go run and get something before they headed back to their patient. Watching this pattern became our inspiration for why hospitals needed Moxi.”

A nurse having to fetch and gather supplies can mean a variety of things. No matter what the specific task is, however, the nurse will still have to be taken off of the floor. To help the staff stay on the floor and be with patients, Moxi happily runs any errand needed.

“There are many aspects of fetching and gathering a robot like Moxi can tackle. Moxi could be directly in the supply room, maybe bringing things to the patient rooms. But, what we saw added the most value was when a staff member is taken off of the unit floor,” Chu said. “It's a lot of time spent away from their patients. That is when we decided that Moxi could focus on this use case to help the staff out. Just going from point A to point B or what we call point-to-point delivery and really getting things where they need to be, keeps the staff from having to worry about it.”

A key feature of Moxi is the robot’s ability to adapt to the humans it works alongside and the environment in which it operates. When Moxi is given a new job, Chu and her team spend the first few weeks integrating Moxi into the new workspace. Now, getting Moxi from one point to another seems tedious, but Diligent’s software enables healthcare workers to page Moxi from their smartphones.

“We build out maps and we talk to the staff to find out where they would like to see the robot pick up and drop off from. It's basically pointing to a location and dropping a pin on a map, similar to Google Maps. That’s how the robot knows their new location. You can drop these pins all throughout the hospital, and then nurses can request the robot to and from any of those places,” Chu said. “We have different ways that you can request the robot. There are some that are more deeply integrated into their healthcare system either through their mobile devices or through their nurse calling systems, but we also have a very simple interface like a kiosk that allows that flexibility to really quickly be useful to staff. Eventually, it gets to the point where they don't have to think about it anymore and the robot can just show up when they need it.”

Moxi was officially rolled out in 2019, which ended up being the perfect exam for the robot’s abilities. With the pandemic hitting in 2020, the nature of the pandemic allowed Moxi to step right in and help their coworkers and the hospitals adjust to the changes in workflow.

Photo provided by Diligent Robotics

“Moxi allowed the hospitals to really quickly absorb change and changes in workflow. Because of the pandemic, they were closing wards, new deliveries had to get changed and all of their existing systems just weren't adapting to it quickly,” Chu said. “Because they had Moxi, they could easily create a new workflow and basically drop off a new waypoint and have the robot travel there. That allowed them to absorb a lot of the change and reduce the variance they experienced if they didn't have that resource. In theory, we knew that Moxi could easily adapt, but we got to actually see it in action which was pretty exciting for us.”

Recently, Diligent partnered with Kendra Cares, a program that brings the magic and joy of Kendra Scott’s Color Bar to pediatric hospitals across the country. The program lets patients and healthcare workers create their own pieces of jewelry for free. The pandemic prevented the Kendra Cares team from physically going to each hospital, which made Diligent and Moxi the perfect partners.

“They couldn't have their staff running around the hospital really delivering [the jewelry], and so it just made perfect sense. [They] were looking for other solutions to be able to do that delivery and then when we connected, they said, ‘well, can you help us deliver these things in the hospital?’ We were like, of course! This is what Moxi is designed for; Moxi delivers things to and from, on and off the unit,” Chu said. “It was a huge benefit to be able to partner with them because it highlighted our company’s focus on being able to give back to the community. It was a huge morale boost for our staff seeing the bright, smiling faces of the children when they got to see the robot.”

Partnering with large brands like Kendra Scott gives Diligent a chance to give back to the Austin community and further establish themselves as innovators in the healthcare sector.

“I think as a company we very much want to be part of the ecosystem in the healthcare space and make that impact and change in a way that isn't sort of like bulldozing our way, but demonstrating how you should use technology,” Chu said. “By partnering with many different organizations or companies when it comes to integrating technologies like this, it means that we could do it in a way that is really driven by the user and what they want and what they're looking for, as well as thinking about how we can integrate with the community and existing partnerships and relationships.”

The endgame is not just Moxi being the perfect teammate, it is allowing Moxi to be utilized as a driver toward the future of healthcare for caregivers and patients.

“The bigger picture we see for Moxi is really transforming the way we think about healthcare and transforming the way we think about automation in healthcare. I definitely see a world in which you go to a hospital and you see a lot of these robots running around, which means the staff doesn't have to think about [where the] supplies need to be, [they are] just there. The cognitive load is reduced, which means that nurses and other staff get to focus on the patient, the patient experience, and their families,” Chu said. “You can have a bunch of these robots of all different types throughout the hospital, making sure that the logistics are just happening in the background, and staff doesn’t have to think about those things anymore. In the future, Diligent Robotics is really transforming the way we think about healthcare and allowing staff to really focus on the people in the hospital as opposed to the tasks.”

Video provided by Diligent Robotics.

Video provided by Diligent Robotics.